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Is Saudi Arabia a Gulf State … or a Golf State?

Foreign Policy Brief #149 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | September 21, 2022

Header photo taken from: First Sportz

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Saudi Arabia's foray into pro golf sparks political blowback. The Riyadh-backed LIV series is dividing Capitol Hill as some lawmakers raise human rights concerns.

Photo taken from: Getty Images

Policy Summary

This summer has seen the ongoing disagreement and to some degree ‘war’ between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour. The traditional American viewing experience for generations has been the PGA Tour. Millions of viewers tune into individual tournaments throughout the season to see the worlds’ top golf professionals compete on American television. Now, a Saudi-backed challenger has stepped into the arena and has started to offer a significant challenge to the traditional golf watching, and competing, experience around the world.

The Saudi Arabian government has for some time now spent money investing into various sports leagues around the world. The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) is their organization in charge of the splashing of money around the world of professional sports. 

During the 2021-2022 English Premier League season, the world was shocked by the financial take-over of Newcastle United by the PIF, an investment which turned Newcastle United into the most expensive professional football club in the world above the likes of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City FC (also has Middle Eastern ownership), Paris Saint-Germain, or Manchester United. Recent reports, in the past week or two, suggest that the PIF may even purchase Italian power-house football club Inter Milan.

 These purchases are not just a way for Saudi Arabia to splash money around for fun; as we have discussed at length through many articles and briefs for US Renew News, sports is an essential tool in the world of soft power international relations. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman is not buying these clubs for the sole pleasure of enjoying great football and golf.

Policy Analysis

Liv Golf differs from the PGA on many levels. First off, they host a distinctly different set of tournaments at venues across the world – and are trying to find an entirely different vibe to golf than the PGA Tour has not done. The Liv Golf tour is all about quick team-playing golf, and money. 

The PGA Tour events have a roster of 100 athletes who play, individually, for four rounds (and half the field is cut after the end of the second round based on scores); which can lead to very long events that can take the better half of a day to watch for a spectator, or to play as a golfer. 

Liv Golf has found a fresher way to play golf with 48 golfers competing (no cuts at any time) consisting of teams of twelve teams of three, also with a shotgun format allowing the teams to start at different holes, but at the same time. This entirely new format allows the game to progress at a much faster rate than the PGA Tour.

LIV Golf has also made it entirely clear that they are willing, and able, to pay each and every competitor regardless of their place in the standings at a particular tournament; the last place finisher walks away with $120,000. In addition golfers receive contracts with large up-front funding when they sign on to play for Liv.

The final finisher at a PGA Tour event gets cut and walks away with no pay for the day. The purse money for LIV Golf events is also much higher with the tournament in London holding a purse of $25 million ($20 million spent on the golfers, and the other $5 million going to the top three teams).

 According to Golf Digest, the LIV Golf tour also pays for the travel and accommodations of the athletes, their families, their coaches, and caddies; which is something the PGA Tour has never done. LIV Golf even broadcasts their events live on YouTube for free, without commercials. 


Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030: Challenges & Opportunities - a gimmick for the world or a benefit for its citizens?

Graphic taken from: Melange Magazine 

(click or tap to enlargen)

The LIV Golf tour also plans on allowing individuals or corporations to purchase an individual team and run it like any other major sports team by selling and purchasing new athletes, or trading athletes; along with this comes all of the major economic boosts such as sponsors, uniforms, and much more. 

The money being invested into the LIV Golf Tour by the PIF is attracting players from all over the world; and the amount of money is greater than what some professionals make throughout their career.

The Public Investment Fund is a part of the Saudi Arabian government. The Saudi government rolled out their economic development plan, known as Vision 2030, and part of this ‘Vision’ is planning for a post-oil global economy and attempting to diversify the revenue streams that support the wealth of the Saudi Arabian economy. 

Every country in the world is attempting to find renewable energy sources to divest from the oil market as much as possible, and automobile manufacturers are turning to entire electric vehicles to make up more of their production. The goals of the world to combat climate change and dependence on fossil fuels are causing the Saudi Arabians to rethink the amount of money they will be able to draw from the global oil market. 

 


Saudi Arabia Had Faced Accusations of ‘Sportswashing’ for Young Saudis: a chance to enjoy new freedoms such as Formula One racing (officals of whom appear alongside Mohammad Bin Salman. Sportswashing provides a distraction from the political headlines stemming from kingdom's involvement with subduing free speech and criticism of the royal family.

Photo taken from:  Andrej Isakovic – Pool / Getty Images

(click or tap to enlargen)

Sports is just a piece of the entire cake that is the investment portfolio of the PIF and the Saudi government’s plans for Vision 2030.

The Public Investment Fund’s spending in sports, renewable energy industries, and other industries has come under scrutiny, as well. The public perception of these new ventures is seen as Prince Mohammed bin Salman trying to repair his image after killing the journalist Jamal Kashoggi in 2018. The Crown Prince has been at the center of this controversy regarding journalism and the free press ever since. It is entirely possible that the motivation, alongside the positive ideas in Vision 2030, is just to save face and improve his image after severely tarnishing it.

LIV Golf is just the latest major sports investment that Saudi Arabia is making; even though there are rumors and ties between other major sporting industries or teams, such as Inter Milan in the Italian Serie A football league. The world is changing quickly, and Saudi Arabia’s royal family appears to have recognized this and is moving to change their ways to accommodate a greener future. In the case of the purchase of Newcastle United, the reactions seem to be fairly mixed; while the PGA Tour has an open lawsuit against LIV Golf, currently.

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