Some lawmakers, human rights activists and members of a group supporting 9/11 families are blasting the PGA Tour for its plan to join forces with Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf, accusing the U.S. golfing group of helping the nation “sportswash” its record of human rights abuses.
The deal, announced Tuesday, was billed as ending a bitter rivalry between the organizations. But beyond the world of golf, LIV had sparked controversy due to the group’s backing by Saudi Arabia’s $620 billion sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, or PIF.
Under the transaction, the PGA and PIF will create a new for-profit golfing entity, with the wealth fund providing an undisclosed capital investment. That Saudi funding is reigniting concerns that the nation is using the PGA and professional golf to improve its global public image.
“Saudi Arabia’s state fund will apparently largely control professional golf while also sportswashing the country’s dismal human rights record,” Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Wednesday.
The deal between the PGA and LIV signals that human rights “took a back seat to the merger’s financial benefits,” Shea said.
A PGA representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s minister of sport, told “60 Minutes” in April he disagreed with the charge of sportswashing, arguing that the LIV tour helped bring people together.
9/11 families “deeply offended”
A group of survivors and family members of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks said it was “shocked and deeply offended” by the deal.
“Saudi operatives played a role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and now it is bankrolling all of professional golf,” 9/11 Families United said in a statement.
“Our entire 9/11 community has been betrayed by [PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan] and the PGA as it appears their concern for our loved ones was merely window-dressing in their quest for money — it was never to honor the great game of golf,” Terry Strada, chair of 9/11 Families United, said in the statement.
In an interview with the Golf Channel on Wednesday, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said he regretted not reaching out to 9/11 families and others.
“Any hypocrisy, I have to own. In allowing confidentiality to prevail, I did not communicate to very important constituents, including the families of 9/11,” he said.
Golfers voice objection
LIV divided the world of professional golf soon after its inception one year ago when it dangled multi-million deals to lure PGA Tour players to its organization. The PGA soon banned players who teed off in LIV tournaments from its own events, creating an acrimonious rivalry — and an antitrust lawsuit — between the two competing camps.
I feel betrayed, and will not not be able to trust anyone within the corporate structure of the PGA TOUR for a very long time
— Wesley Bryan (@wesleybryangolf) June 6, 2023
Following the announcement of the deal, some players said they felt blindsided, with PGA Tour player Wesley Bryan complaining that he learned about the deal via social media. Bryan noted that he felt “betrayed” and wouldn’t be able to trust the PGA Tour corporate leadership “for a very long time.”
“I still hate LIV,” PGA golfer Rory McIlroy said during a PGA Tour press conference Wednesday. “I hope it goes away and I would fully expect that it does.”
Khristopher J. Brooks is a reporter for CBS MoneyWatch covering business, consumer and financial stories that range from economic inequality and housing issues to bankruptcies and the business of sports.
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