Authoritarian regime seeks sport to restore image

Disclaimer: This is not a golf editorial.

Posted at 5:00am

However, we have no choice but to talk about the story of the past week on the sports planet: the creation of the new international golf circuit LIV, which has to compete with the PGA. Many of the top golfers defected from the PGA after the LIV turned them into a golden bridge.

A new circuit offers millionaire golfers the opportunity to earn even more millions? There is nothing to write to his mother.

Only this new circuit is the brainchild and property of Saudi Arabia, an authoritarian regime that murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which has one of the worst human rights records in the world, which imposes the death penalty and which treats homosexuality as a crime punishable by death. Freedom of expression does not exist in Saudi Arabia, as evidenced by the case of blogger Raif Badawi, who was released this winter after 10 years in prison (he will not be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia for another 10 years).

It is not the first time that an authoritarian regime has tried to use sport to restore its image and make people forget the systematic violations of human rights. This exercise that combines vanity and international relations is called the sports wash (free translation: “whitening by sport”).

The last Olympics were held in Beijing, China, a country where the Uyghurs are victims of genocide, the House of Commons has ruled.

The next FIFA World Cup will take place in Qatar, an authoritarian regime where conditions for migrant workers are appalling and where both women and LGBTQ people are discriminated against, Amnesty International said.

When one of them wants to restore his image, Saudi Arabia (Newcastle), the United Arab Emirates (Manchester City) or Qatar (PSG) usually buy, through their sovereign fund, a prestigious football team or organize a major international competition.

With the LIV Golf Tour, Saudi Arabia is trying to sports wash to a higher level: owning a complete sport. Or rather: a sports circuit.

Do you think this ethical debate doesn’t concern you because you don’t follow sports? Think again. With its sovereign fund of US$190 billion, Saudi Arabia is expanding its economic tentacles in several multinational corporations.

For example, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is the third largest shareholder in Uber (3.7% of the shares) and Live Nation (5.5% of the shares), by far the largest producer of music shows in the world. (Live Nation also has financial interests in festivals like Osheaga, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, and the Francos de Montreal.)

Suddenly, Saudi Arabia is no longer a distant authoritarian regime that can be easily ignored. It’s part of our everyday life…

We admire the talent of athletes. We forgive them a lot. But if LIV golfers have been publicly pilloried this week—for good reason—it’s because we’ve seen them for what they are: mercenaries with no morals who only care about dollars. It doesn’t matter who signs the check.

As long as we judge Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau loud and clear, we could also take the opportunity to look at our belly button.

Despite the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, despite the systematic violations of human rights, despite the death penalty, despite the war in Yemen since 2015, despite all this, Canada and the other G7 countries have never imposed real economic sanctions on Saudi Arabia. Arabia Arabia.

Canada continues to honor its $15 billion contract to supply armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia as if nothing happened. In 2021, Canada sold $1.7 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the second largest military customer after the United States.

The international community is turning a blind eye to the situation in Saudi Arabia because it needs its oil (the country is the second largest producer, with 11% of world production).

During the election campaign, Joe Biden said he would stop selling guns and treat this country as an “outcast.” Cover: Washington now wants to convince Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production (hoping to see the oil price fall), and President Biden plans to make an official visit there this summer. We no longer have the pariahs we used to have.

If we protest that golfers agree to be pawns in Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical strategy, we should rebel at least as hard if a country like Canada continues to sell weapons and vehicles there.