LIV vs. PGA: How the Issue of Sportswashing Has Thrown the World of Golf into Disarray

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The creation of the LIV Golf Invitational Series has sparked huge controversary and casts real
doubt over the future of golf.

This new golf tour is financed by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. You may recognise the Saudi PIF, as it was also in the news late last year after its purchase of Premier League club, Newcastle United.

The LIV Golf tour, along with the purchase of Newcastle United, has sparked much public debate because it is seen as an attempt at sportswashing by the Saudi Arabian regime and its Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman.

Sportswashing is a relatively new concept, but the term itself derives from the more familiar ‘greenwashing’. The process of an organisation spending more time and money on marketing itself as environmentally friendly than on actually minimizing its environmental impact.

Sportswashing is just as deceitful as greenwashing. Sportswashing is the practice of an individual, group, corporation, or government using sports to improve their reputation, by either hosting a sporting event, the purchase or sponsorship of a sports team, or direct participation in the sport itself. For world leaders, the practice of sportswashing is a strategy of reputation management. It is being increasingly adopted by countries with historically poor records when it comes to human rights.

In the case of the LIV Golf Series, it is Saudi Arabia and its leadership that has come under intense media pressure within the sports world. Saudi Arabia is a particularly repressive regime, with an appalling human rights record. For those living in Saudi Arabia, ‘freedom of expression, association, and belief’ are not seen as basic human rights.

People who defy the rules of the Saudi regime, can suffer dire consequences as a result. The Saudi Crown Prince, Bin Salman, has been accused of committing several high-profile crimes including the killing of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in 2018.

Given the distance in belief systems from the Saudi regime and those of us in the West, it is surprising that so many prominent and successful golfers have agreed deals to participate in the inaugural LIV Golf Series. Some of the players that have committed to participate so far, include the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Bryson De Chambeau and Ireland’s own Graeme McDowell. All of those mentioned above are previous Major winners.

On the back of their participation in the Saudi PIF funded LIV Golf Series, all LIV players have been suspended from participating in PGA Tour events.

When questioned on their participation in this new tournament the LIV rebel golfers have rubbished claims that they hold any responsibility for allowing the Saudi regime to use the sport of golf in their own sportswashing game. Graeme McDowell argued at a LIV press conference that “as golfers if we tried to cure geopolitical situations in every country in the world, we played golf in, we wouldn’t play a lot of golf.” This remark, in turn, could be seen as a dig at golf’s traditional PGA Tour. Another Irish golfer, Rory McIlroy, has hit out at the LIV Golf Series on numerous occasions over the last few months and has backed the PGA Tour’s decision to suspend those participating in LIV events from the PGA. “I certainly don’t envy them, but I’ve always felt this is the best place to play golf, and I still believe that”, McIlroy said speaking to the media after winning the 2022 Canadian Open.

The establishment of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, along with the participation of some of golf’s most decorated and celebrated players has shaken the world of golf over the last week. Those players subsequent suspensions from the PGA Tour have led to speculation that they could be banned from playing in future Major tournaments and even, the Ryder Cup. Any ban from participating in golf’s four Majors and the Ryder Cup could signal the death of golf as we know it.

The ever-increasing debate around sportswashing will continue to fracture long-standing relationships in golf and across the world of sport, as this important societal issue continues to come to the forefront of not just sport, but business, civil and political society.

The issue of sportswashing will begin to show the true characters of our favourite sports stars, clubs, and competitions. The more instances of this kind, the more our loyalties will be tested as sports fans.

Is everything and everyone for sale, including our reputations?

Dylan

Dylan Morley is a Junior Account Executive with Fuzion Communications, a full service Marketing and PR agency with offices in Dublin and Cork, Ireland.

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4 Responses to “LIV vs. PGA: How the Issue of Sportswashing Has Thrown the World of Golf into Disarray”

  1. Alan Ryan Says:

    Interesting article Dylan, I am left wondering why Newcastle remain part of that league. But I guess I already know the answer.

  2. Arthur Briggs Says:

    If Newcastle United or Ireland’s Graeme McDowell approached your agency with a view to working on a project together, are you telling me you would decline? The trouble is if you look closely enough at any organisation, you may not like what you see.

    • Greg Canty Says:

      Hi Arthur, You make a great point. Thankfully we are a private business and fully autonomous, which means we can make our own decisions 100% about who we work with and the nature of our work.

      Moral situations do come up from time to time and you are absolutely right, they can test you. The most vulnerable time is if you are under financial pressure and accepting work might be the difference between survival and not.

      Strangely, any time that we may have compromised who we are, it has never, ever worked out!

      Thanks for reading and for giving feedback.

      Greg

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