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European Tour makes a serious bogey in visiting Saudi Arabia
Justin Rose’s reasons for playing in Saudi Arabia are not good enough. Photograph: Orlando Ramirez/USA Today Sports

European Tour makes a serious bogey in visiting Saudi Arabia

Ewan Murray @mrewanmurray Golf penalises players for scorecard errors, yet is going cap in hand to a regime with an appalling human rights record Golf’s obsession with irrelevance was in evidence again on Sunday. That Li Haotong’s caddie was adjudged to have assisted the player with the lining up of a putt in the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic cost the defending champion by way of a two-stroke penalty. Commentators, players and caddies blasted this marginal call, rendered possible by recent amendments to the rules of golf. Muirfield’s members had fresh meat to titter about over Monday gins. By Monday afternoon, the European Tour and the R&A were at odds regarding the implementation of said rule. Keith Pelley, the Tour’s chief executive, bemoaned the lack of discretion available to his referees. Sceptics may suggest Pelley was seeking to create controversy where one does not exist in the hope of creating a handy diversion. Recurring horrors in relation to Saudi Arabia and human rights barely need revisiting. The CIA’s claim in November that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, most likely ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi added a further layer of negativity – to put it mildly – that the European Tour could have done without. There have also been reports of the torture and sexual harassment of women’s rights activists in Saudi detention centres. As it attempts to show the world it is actually a misunderstood utopia, Saudi Arabia turned towards the world’s leading golfers; and found a depressingly willing audience. Four of the world’s top five are scheduled to tee up in Saudi. That comes with hefty reward; Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka et al are being richly compensated by way of appearance fees for just turning up. Low-ranked players might feel a necessity to play as they battle to maintain status. Paul Casey made it clear last week that he would not travel on human rights grounds – a view shared by plenty of others who have opted to keep counsel. “You have to look at the entire Middle East region,” Pelley said. “We have an excellent relationship with the Middle East and it’s very important; why it’s important is we can’t play anywhere in Europe at this time of year. Saudi is just an extension of the Middle East strategy. “The European Tour is one of many global companies who operate in Saudi Arabia. We understand their goal to make parts of the country more accessible to global business, tourism and leisure over the next decade.” If not so serious, this would of course be hilarious. Here is a sporting body which penalises competitors for making an error with a scorecard yet thinks it reasonable to go cap in hand to a regime which, according to Amnesty International, oversaw the execution of 146 people in 2017. What Pelley understandably fails to mention in regards to Saudi Arabia is commercial necessity as his tour falls further and further behind its US equivalent. But must that arrive at all costs? To his credit, the Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee highlighted the Tour’s woefully bad call. “I cannot imagine what economic incentive it would take to get me to go to a place that is so egregiously on the wrong side of human rights,” he said. “I don’t think they fully understand what they are doing. “I don’t understand it from an economic point of view, I don’t understand it from a business point of view and I don’t understand it from a moral point of view. They are legitimising and enriching the rulers of this regime. I won’t even watch it on the TV. They should not be there. By participating, they are ventriloquists for this abhorrent, reprehensible regime.” Rose shrugged off such a notion. “I’m not a politician, I’m a pro golfer,” the Englishman said. “There are other reasons to go play it. It’s a good field, there’s going to be a lot of world ranking points to play for, by all accounts it’s a good golf course.” Rose’s explanation isn’t good enough, not least for someone so intelligent. When adding that he looked forward to “experiencing” Saudi Arabia, he should have contemplated what that has meant for so many others . Golfers readily skip events for all manner of trivialities. The problem is many of those around them rarely have the gumption to point out how poor scenarios may look in the real world. Commercial deals for players have spin-offs for managers, of course. The next time football or rugby is urged to view the world through golf’s lofty prism, the retort should be straightforward. The next time golf preaches about a genuine desire to be inclusive and diverse, we are entitled to burst out laughing. Quests for the moral high ground in sport are infamously tricky but this represents an extremity the European Tour should have readily avoided. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/jan/28/european-tour-serious-bogey-visiting-saudi-arabia
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