Bruce’s Take: The PGA practices sportswashing Skip to content

Bruce’s Take: The PGA practices sportswashing

It’s all about the Benjamins – also known, in this case, as the blood money.

3 min read

This post is outside of my normal niche of Kentucky and US politics. But the blatant hypocrisy of it was so egregious that I want to rant about it for a moment.

If you follow golf at all, you’re aware of the ongoing feud between the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and its historic PGA tour and the upstart LIV Tour that is sponsored by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, which is controlled by Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (often called by the initialism MBS).

The Saudis’ tour competes directly with the PGA, and has been pulling professionals off the PGA tour by offering much larger prizes for a shorter contest (three days instead of four). Numerous former stars of the PGA have bailed on it and moved over to the LIV tour, including Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia.

All of this might have been just another business conflict – except, it’s the Saudis. One of the most despotic regimes in the world, with a horrific record of violations of human rights. One that regularly uses torture, that imprisons and executes persons for simply speaking against the rulers, that gives women almost no rights, and where you can be arrested and imprisoned for no reason at all.

And let’s not forget ol’ MBS, who ordered an American journalist tortured, killed, and dismembered with a bone saw brought along for that purpose.

The Saudi regime has long been denounced by other nations and leaders as one of the worst authoritarian governments on earth. In response, MBS and the Saudis have tried to use their massive wealth to buy friends and influence.

But giving $2 billion to Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law) apparently wasn’t enough. So they turned to a new tactic: sportswashing.

This wonderfully descriptive term is just what it looks like: the use of sports to wash away a bad reputation, or to distract from the evil you are doing by putting on a sporting spectacle. The classic example of sportswashing is Hitler hosting the 1936 Olympics.

When the LIV Tour started up, it was denounced by both numerous professional golfers and by the PGA itself. Golfers who turned down the Saudi invitations to join the LIV Tour often said they weren’t interested in MBS’s “blood money.” The head of the PGA used similar language, and accused the golfers who had left the PGA of helping the Saudis use sports to pull attention away from their horrific practices.

And of course, along with the public statements came the lawsuits. The PGA sued the LIV Tour, and LIV counter-sued. The LIV lawyers tried to get internal documents from the PGA during discovery, but when the PGA lawyers tried to do the same thing — obtain documents about the funding of LIV — the Saudi lawyers claimed that they didn’t have to comply, citing “sovereign immunity.”

But in February, a federal judge threw out the LIV argument of sovereign immunity, and said they had to turn over the same set of documents that the PGA had provided. In other words, the internal workings of the Saudi investment fund and its management would become public knowledge.

That’s where things stood until a few days ago, when out of the blue the PGA announced that it was merging with LIV. (!!!)

That’s right – the venerable PGA, which had spoken out against the bloody Saudi regime, suddenly decided that the money was more important than its principles.

I have to admit, I was gobsmacked. The hypocrisy of the move was so blatant, so over the top, that I actually checked multiple news outlets to make sure it was real.

And check this – one of the clauses of the merger agreement was that the PGA agreed to drop its lawsuit and to cease discovery. In other words, the Saudis get to keep their secrets to themselves.

It’s a giant sellout. The Saudis waved the Benjamins, and the PGA leadership caved. Principles? What principles would you be speaking of, exactly? Blood money? Bonesaws? We have no idea what you’re talking about.

Oh, and consider this: Next year, the PGA Championship is coming to the Valhalla course in Louisville. The moral disconnect will be right in our backyard. Will we get to see MBS shake hands with our governor, whomever that may be? Will the adoring throngs get Saudi t-shirts and golf caps? Will even a word be said about public floggings, torture, and executions? Or will it all be forgotten, washed away in yet another example of money being more important than everything else, including human life?

It’s hypocritical. It’s disgusting. And if enough people call it what it is — supporting a dictatorship because of their money — perhaps it will fail. Perhaps the Saudis’ attempt at sportswashing will actually call more attention to their human rights abuses, to their repressive regime, to their treatment of women. And even though the PGA has decided to whore itself out for MBS’s oil money, perhaps enough professional golfers will choose principle over profit to make the whole thing collapse.

In the meantime, I’m marking May 13-19, 2024 on my calendar. That’s when the PGA will be at Valhalla. I think I’m going to be there too – with a sign showing bloody hands holding a golf club.


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Bruce Maples

Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

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