It’s not a crime to be greedy: The Saudi golf critics are fuelled by jealousy... and not human rights

Golf is awash with money, so says John Dolan in his weekly column
It’s not a crime to be greedy: The Saudi golf critics are fuelled by jealousy... and not human rights

SAUDI RICHES: Dustin Johnson (left) and Graeme McDowell address the media.

MY, that is ludicrous prize money up for grabs this weekend, for swinging a few clubs around at a golf tournament, isn’t it?

And all to be dished out to a load of washed-up has-beens and never-even-beens, a few of whom won some big tournaments years ago, but whose best days are well and truly behind them.

But enough about the $2.4 million prize pot in the American Family Insurance Championship on the golf Seniors Tour...

Huh?

Ah, you thought I was talking about that Saudi Arabian breakaway golf tour that has dominated the headlines all week, didn’t you?

Not at all.

I was referring to an event in Wisconsin, part of the incredibly lucrative Senior PGA Tour,

The competitors, who include Miguel Angel Jimenez and Bernhard Langer, all have to be aged over 50, and the winner tomorrow will pocket a cool $360,000. 

Even the poor guy who ends up bottom of the pile will walk home with $1,200. Not bad for a terrible few days’ work!

The next Major tournament on the tour, the US Senior Open, later this month will dish out even more bundles of lucre - an eye-watering $4million.

Yes sirree, golf is awash with money - and not just as a prize for shooting the lowest score either. Sponsorship and advertising all add to the swelling bank accounts of the planet’s finest few hundred stars and their teams.

But this week, many golfers, the sport’s media, and some of its fans went apoplectic when a bunch of players decided to, er, chase even more cash, and pursue a breakaway tour group, plunging the game into an existential crisis.

The Saudi Arabian-backed breakaway series, known as the LIV tour, has divided the game and led to accusations of sportswashing.

Current stars such as Dustin Johnson, as well as a good many past their prime, like Graham McDowell, Sergio Garcia, and Phil Mickelson, found the lure of huge bucks too hard to turn down, and teed it up on Thursday at the $25 million Invitational Series - the most lucrative golf event ever.

In retaliation, the established US PGA Tour suspended those players taking part who hadn’t already resigned, and many are now wondering where this will leave one of the world’s most popular sports in the years ahead.

Critics say the new series, bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, amounts to blatant ‘sportswashing’ by a nation trying to bolster its reputation amidst human rights concerns.

As you can imagine,the high-minded, moralistic pile-on on social media against those taking part was as bilious as it was predictable.

The stars who had defected were branded traitors, usurpers, greed-driven, and much worse.

It was uncomfortable to witness, as the players in the Saudi event were subjected to the type of abuse you might normally reserve for a mass murderer.

Nobody died, guys.

It was just some rich men who wanted to get richer. Maybe not the most edifying sporting morality tale you will hear this year, but hardly a hanging offence all the same.

What was interesting was that most of the attacks on social media didn’t even mention the Saudi human rights issue; the insults appeared to be mainly driven by jealousy of the huge sums of cash involved. How dare these guys accept a huge, juicy carrot dangling under their noses!

Would they, you or I turn it down? Who knows.

Certainly, if I was nearing the end of my golfing career and had one eye on the large sums on offer for the Senior Tour, and the Saudi organisers offered me a lorryload more for joining them... well, in for a penny and all that.

Of course, the controversy also provided many with a chance to indulge in some pious Middle-East bashing too.

In recent times, countries in the region have become the cause du jour for those moralistic types who shout loudest on social media - and in the mainstream media when it gives them the chance.

That same Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund recently purchased 80% of Newcastle United, while Manchester City and Paris St Germain are owned by interests in Abu Dhabi and Qatar respectively.

All come under intense scrutiny for their every action, far more than American capitalist fat-cat owners do, for instance.

And, of course, we would be enjoying the World Cup now if it hadn’t been awarded to Qatar - and moved to our winter as it is so damn hot in that country in the summer.

This has led to the politicisation of sport gathering momentum, and the golf series has stirred up the hornets’ nest again.

People like to call it ‘sportswashing’, but I do wonder how this works in reality. If the Middle Eastern countries really did want to improve their public image, why would they buy a soccer club whom the fan of every club will quickly grow to resent? That doesn’t sound like good PR and marketing to me.

Similarly, the Saudis pumping millions into a golf series only leads to the western media endlessly recycling stories about the people they put to death and other alleged human rights violations.

Isn’t it more likely that those nations in the Middle East which have gotten wealthy from oil are sensibly aiming to spread their investments about, as they prepare for a world where their precious natural resource either dries up, or is effectively outlawed due to climate change?

And on that note, it’s really worth reminding people that selling and using oil still isn’t a crime. Indeed, if the taps were switched off now, the world would grind to a halt and millions would starve and die of hunger.

Don’t get me wrong - I didn’t feel a jot of sympathy for the players at the Saudi event this week as they faced a barrage of criticism.

But I do feel many in the West are guilty of hypocrisy when it comes to how certain countries are portrayed.

Maybe you have been on holiday in Qatar, or would like to some day see the famous Abu Dhabi Tower. Does that mean you endorse the governments of those countries? Of course not.

Similarly, if a Cork company sought to expand and open an office in Saudi Arabia, would we scream at them for endorsing public executions? Hardly.

But a bunch of golfers are apparently fair game for the sins of the world? Gimme a break.

The only thing offensive about the Saudi breakaway league is the money. Oh, and those awful, garish trousers of course.

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