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HomeFinancePGA-LIV merger: Senators rip 'brutal' and 'repressive' Saudi influence in golf

PGA-LIV merger: Senators rip ‘brutal’ and ‘repressive’ Saudi influence in golf

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‘Today’s hearing is about much more than the game of golf; it’s about how a brutal, repressive regime can buy influence, indeed even take over a cherished American institution to cleanse its public image. It’s a regime that has reportedly killed a journalist, jailed and tortured dissidents, fostered the war in Yemen, and supported other terrorist activities, including the 9/11 attack on our nation.’

That was Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, addressing the proposed merger between the Saudi-backed LIV Golf and the PGA Tour during a Tuesday Senate subcommittee panel.

The PGA Tour recently reached an agreement with LIV Golf, which is funded by the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund, to create a new entity to “unify the game of golf.” LIV Golf, founded in 2021 in a direct challenge to the PGA Tour, has been luring golfers away from the PGA by offering athletes millions of dollars to join their league.

PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne defended the deal while addressing critics who cited Saudi links to the 9/11 attack as a reason to not move ahead with the proposed merger during Tuesday’s panel.

“If any person had the remotest connection to an attack on our country or the murder of my friends, I am the last guy who would be sitting at a table with them,” Dunne said.

Tuesday’s hearing, which had to be moved to a larger room due to its outsized interest, was attended by members of 9/11 Families United, a group whose members lost family members during the Sept. 11, 2001 attack. That group has routinely criticized LIV Golf and the athletes who joined the league.

Dunne, along with PGA Tour COO Ron Price, defended its impending deal with LIV Golf and the Saudi wealth fund, saying that the PGA would remain in control of golf.

The PGA Tour will have “full decision-making authority with respect to all strategic and operational matters related to competition,” Dunne said.

Senators used much of their time during the hearing to discuss human rights abuses committed by the current Saudi regime. Blumenthal has been critical of the LIV Golf-PGA Tour merger on several previous occasions, such as saying that “PGA Tour has placed a price on human rights” when the deal was announced in June.

Many senators also brought up the issue of “sportswashing,” which is a term used to define entities using an athletic event to improve a tarnished reputation.

“Sportswashing is a legitimate issue, but no amount of money can wash away the stain of the brutal Khashoggi assassination and other humans rights abuses,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin.

“But it would be grossly unfair to expect the PGA Tour to bear the full burden of holding Saudi Arabia accountable,” he added. “After all, anyone who drives a car or uses oil-based products has helped fill the coffers of the Saudi public investment fund. There is nothing wrong with the PGA Tour negotiating its survival.”

From the archives (August 2022): Trump tells golfers to ‘take the money’ from LIV Golf or ‘pay a big price’

As part of the merger, both parties are dropping their lawsuits against each other. In addition, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will make a major financial investment in the new-look entity, and will also be a corporate sponsor for events.

Many high-profile golfers — including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Patrick Reed — were among those who joined LIV Golf. Mickelson was reportedly offered $200 million just to play in the league, and Johnson was reportedly offered $150 million to play. Those amounts would be simply for participation, and further tournament winnings for LIV golf events could make payments to those golfers even bigger.

“I just think that, yesterday, we didn’t really learn a whole lot, again,” golfer Scottie Scheffler told reporters in Scotland on Wednesday after watching the hearing. “As a player on tour, we still don’t really have a lot of clarity as to what’s going on, and that’s a bit worrisome. They keep saying it’s a player-run organization, and we don’t really have the information that we need. I watched part of yesterday and didn’t learn anything, so I really don’t know what to say.”

The PGA Tour and LIV Golf could be subject to more congressional hearings and may hear from the Justice Department over potential antitrust violations.

According to the U.S. Department of State, Saudi Arabia has been accused in recent years of multiple human rights violations, including: unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; and taking political prisoners or detainees, among other offenses.

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