Greg Norman on Wednesdayn batted away concerns over Saudi Arabia’s rights record and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by saying that “we’ve all made mistakes,” as he defended his new money-spinning golf tour.
The Australian former world No. 1 is heading the new multimillion-dollar LIV Golf Invitational Series, which is heavily backed by Saudi financing and has sparked accusations of “sportswashing.”
A US intelligence assessment found that the Gulf kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, “approved” an operation to capture or kill critic and columnist Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabian officials deny this and say that his murder and dismemberment in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in 2018 — which sparked worldwide outrage — was a “rogue” operation.
“This whole thing about Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi and human rights, talk about it, but also talk about the good that the country is doing in changing its culture,” Norman said when grilled by reporters about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the series, which starts in England next month.
“Look, we’ve all made mistakes, and you just want to learn by those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward,” the 67-year-old added.
The LIV series is threatening to tear golf apart.
Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson and former world No. 1 Lee Westwood are among the high-profile players who want to be released from established tours to play the opening tournament near London.
The 54-hole event at Centurion Club in St Albans boasts an eye-watering prize fund of US$25 million.
The US PGA Tour is refusing to give its players permission to take part, and those who go ahead and play in the June 9-11 event would be deemed to be in contravention of Tour regulations, opening the door to suspension or exclusion.
The Daily Telegraph reported that officials on the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour, had followed their US counterparts by taking a similar stance.
Norman, who is chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, said the PGA Tour was “perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market.”
“The Tour’s action is anti-golfer, anti-fan and anti-competitive,” he said after it refused to give permission to its golfers to play.
Mickelson has not played since triggering uproar in February following the publication of remarks made last year concerning the new series.
The 51-year-old described the Saudi Arabian financial backers of the series as “scary” with a “horrible record on human rights,” but said that he was willing to deal with them in order to gain leverage to “reshape” the PGA Tour.
Mickelson later apologized for the comments and announced he was taking some “desperately needed time away” from golf.
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