Saudi Leader Avoiding “Pariah” Status with LIV-PGA Merger

saudi crown prince mohammed bin salman and u.s. president joe biden meet at al salman palace upon his arrival in jeddah, saudi arabia

saudi crown prince mohammed bin salman and u.s. president joe biden meet at al salman palace upon his arrival in jeddah, saudi arabia

After the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Mohammed bin Salman said to repair his reputation.

A prominent Middle East democracy advocate told that the proposed merger between the Saudi-backed LIV Tour and the American PGA Tour is the latest move by Riyadh to repair its reputation and avoid the blacklisting that followed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“This is a fake merger,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn). “This is really about the Saudi government giving PGA Tour an offer they couldn’t refuse,” she said.

This is a crucial step in preventing what happened after Khashoggi was killed in 2018: US investors withdrew over a billion dollars from the Saudi stock market, broke off business relations, demanded the return of Saudi investments made in their companies, refused to conduct business there, and wouldn’t even travel there to conduct business or discuss other matters.

Whitson called the international backlash after Saudi agents killed Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate “a major humiliation for Mohammed bin Salman,” the crown prince US intelligence agencies say ordered the killing.

Keep Reading

She said the Saudi government wants to prevent the international community and international businesses from sanctioning him. “It very difficult and costly to try ever again to pivot from Saudi Arabia,” Whitson said.

The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF)-funded PGA and LIV’s proposed merger would end a series of lawsuits between the leagues, which have been rivals since 2021. It would also be the latest venture by Saudi Arabia, flush with cash from higher oil prices and its role as a global crude market linchpin, into sports, video games, and defence.

The government-controlled PIF owns Newcastle United and wants to host the 2030 World Cup with its $650bn in assets. The country also signed a 10-year deal to host a Formula One Grand Prix each season and attracted world footballer of the year Karim Benzema and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to its domestic league.

The Washington Post said last year that since 2016, dozens of former US military officers, including 15 generals and admirals, have been working as paid consultants for the Saudi defence ministry.

“It will really become a test for a number of golf players who don’t want to work for Saudi Arabia,” Whitson said of the LIV-PGA-DP World Tour deal. Saudi Arabia is poised to take over American golf. I mean, Tiger Woods and everyone else is literally working for a murderer, and that’s going to be a difficult ethical and moral question for every player and every fan who’s paying money to attend these golf games.”

The justice department has warned the PGA Tour that the merger could be reviewed for antitrust violations, and this week, the chair of an investigative Senate subcommittee demanded that the PIF governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, appear at a hearing. He may be questioned under oath about Khashoggi’s murder and the golf deal.

“I think there’s a good chance to stop this from happening,” said Whitson, noting that the justice department review and PGA board vote are required to approve the merger. She expects a US government national security investigation into the agreement.

We still don’t know the full deal, how much the Saudi government is paying, or the ownership structure. “We don’t even know LIV Golf’s full ownership structure,” she said.

Dawn, the democracy organisation conceived by Khashoggi before his murder, was officially launched in 2020 by Whitson, who had known the murdered journalist for years. Dawn filed a federal civil suit against the Saudi crown prince and other officials for kidnapping, binding, drugging, torturing, and killing Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

After Riyadh promoted Prince Mohammed to prime minister, the Biden administration told a court he should be granted sovereign immunity, ending the suit. Whitson said Dawn’s lawsuit was effectively killed by the decision, adding that Dawn’s similar complaint with a French prosecutor has made no progress.

The US president has had a rocky relationship with Saudi Arabia, a country he vowed to turn into a “pariah” on the world stage during his campaign for the White House. Last year, he visited Riyadh and fist-bumped the crown prince, but later told reporters he had expressed his objections to Khashoggi’s murder in a meeting.

Whitson says Riyadh has too much to offer the US to become a pariah anytime soon. It buys American weapons and dominates global oil markets, which affects the politically volatile price of petrol for American drivers. According to Whitson, Biden is trying to persuade Riyadh to normalise relations with Israel to use in his re-election campaign.

Whitson compared Riyadh’s goals to those of authoritarian nations like China and Russia, which are closely monitoring the LIV-PGA merger.

Read Previous

New Migrant Tragedy at Sea, EU Leaders Continue to Push for Tougher Border Controls

Read Next

Sweden Quran Burning: Protesters Storm Embassy in Baghdad

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x