When Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud handed his then 30-year-old son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) the day-to-day rule of the country in 2015, the young ruler hired global polling firms to survey Americans and Europeans about their perceptions of Saudi Arabia, according to the authors of Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power.
Unsurprisingly, the country’s human rights abuses of political opponents, women, and religious and sexual minorities ranked at the top of the list, a track record Amnesty International describes as “heinous.”
To change these perceptions, or rather to divert global attention away from its appalling human rights record and toward the country’s burgeoning non-oil related industries, particularly tourism and technology, MbS implemented a raft of national rebranding initiatives, including the hosting of major sporting events, in particular, professional golf’s Asian Tour.
For years, the Saudi government has failed in its quest to sign a global name to act as front man for its international golfing tournaments.
For years, the Saudi government has tried to lure marquee professional golfers to whitewash its abuse and mistreatment of critics, political prisoners, religious and sexual minorities, and women. But for years, the Saudi government has failed in its quest to sign a global name to act as front man for its international golfing tournaments.
“There’s a morality to it,” said golfing superstar Rory McIlroy, a four-time major championship winner, in reference to the kingdom’s human rights violations regarding his decision to reject a $2.5 million offer to play in the Saudi International two years ago. Tiger Woods also snubbed a record $3.3 million to play in the country a year later, citing the grisly murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Now, Saudi perseverance has finally paid off with LIV Golf Investments, a subsidiary of Saudi government-run Private Investment Fund (PIF), naming former world number one golf champion Greg Norman, aka the Great White Shark, as its new CEO and front man for the recently announced ten-tournament series on the Asian Tour, starting next year.
Norman described the $200 million in prize money over the next ten years as “only the beginning,” amid credible rumors he will also become the commissioner of a new Saudi-funded breakaway golf league.
When Golf Digest asked Norman if he had “any concerns as to where the money is coming from, and specifically the Saudi Arabian connection,” he said that while PIF is the majority investor, “they’re very autonomous…and passionate about the game of golf.”
This, of course, is total nonsense.
MbS is not only the chairman of PIF, but he is also the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, making PIF the total opposite of “autonomous.”
MbS is not only the chairman of PIF, but he is also the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, making PIF the total opposite of “autonomous.” It operates at the direction and whims of MbS, the man who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, along with the perpetual jailing and torturing of those who critique him.
None of this perturbs Norman, however, who dismissed human rights concerns in the kingdom by absurdly pointing out that he has been “going to Saudi Arabia for three years” and made his decision only after he “knew what was happening in the country.”
In other words, Norman claims to know more about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia than Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), which earlier this year ranked the country as “one of the world’s worst abusers of human rights” because of its poor record on torture, execution, extrajudicial killing, disappearance, arbitrary arrest, and the death penalty.
“The data collected by [HRMI] perfectly illustrates the deteriorating human rights situation in Saudi Arabia,” said Julia Legner, head of advocacy at London-based NGO Al-Qst, in a recent interview.
“Ever since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince in 2017, he has centralized state power and tightened his grip on the most fundamental rights, with the largest crackdown on freedom of expression in the country’s history [and] wide-scale prosecution of human rights defenders.”
Norman claims that he has visited Saudi Arabia several times during the past three years to play golf and design golf courses, and as he observes, “You walk into a restaurant and there are women. They’re not wearing burqas – they’re out playing golf.”
Norman’s statements are extremely insensitive to the many Saudi citizens who have fought tirelessly for justice and equality under the country’s repressive rule, which is why Amnesty International’s UK chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh, did not hold back in condemning Norman’s selfish decision and reckless comments.
“Golfers tempted to play in these tournaments ought to take the time to consider the dynamics of sportswashing.”
“Whether or not this is the harbinger of a future Saudi-backed Golf Super League, it’s yet another example of Saudi Arabia spraying its money around in an attempt to sportswash its appalling human rights record,” said Deshmukh. “Golfers tempted to play in these tournaments ought to take the time to consider the dynamics of sportswashing and how they might break its spell by speaking out about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.”
But Norman does not care. Moreover, his callous indifference towards the marginalized and downtrodden does not surprise long time followers of the Australian golfer. Former Australian Rugby Union player Peter Fitzsimmons described the Great White Shark as not only the “world’s number one narcissist” but also his own “biggest fan,” pointing out how the golfer recently encouraged his fans to post a 1,000 word essay on his website, describing their love for him.
After all, this is a man who spends his days boasting about his yachts, private jets, and access to US Presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, while posting semi-naked pictures of himself on Instagram.
Norman’s glorification of self is why he is incapable of understanding or sympathizing with the suffering and misery of others, explaining his willingness to whitewash and misrepresent the crimes of one of the world’s worst human rights violators in return for money his already overflowing bank accounts do not need. In other words, greed over principles is unquestionably what Norman stands for.