The authoritarian regime is looking to sport to restore its image

Disclaimer: This is not a golf editorial.

Posted at 5:00 am

However, we have no choice but to talk about last week’s story on the sports planet: the formation of the new international golf circuit LIV to go head-to-head with the PGA. Many of the top golfers left the PGA after the LIV made it a golden bridge.

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

Aside from the fact that this new circuit is the brainchild of and owned by Saudi Arabia, an authoritarian regime that killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has one of the worst human rights records in the world, enforces the death penalty and treats homosexuality as a crime, which is punishable by death. Freedom of expression does not exist in Saudi Arabia, as illustrated 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).

This is not the first time that an authoritarian regime has tried to use sport to restore its image and make people forget its systematic human rights abuses. This exercise, which combines vanity and international relations, is known as the wash sports (free translation: “brightening through sport”).

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

The next soccer World Cup will be held in Qatar, an authoritarian regime where conditions for migrant workers are appalling and where both women and LGBTQ people face discrimination, according to Amnesty International.

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

With the LIV Golf Tour, Saudi Arabia is trying to achieve this wash sports to a higher level: owning a complete sport. Or more precisely, a sports course.

Do you think this ethical debate doesn’t concern you because you don’t follow sport? think again With its $190 billion sovereign wealth fund, Saudi Arabia is stretching its economic tentacles into several multinationals.

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

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

We admire the talent of the athletes. We forgive them many things. But if the LIV golfers were nailed to the pillory of public opinion this week for good reason, it was because they were seen for what they are: mercenaries with no morals who only care about greenbacks. It doesn’t matter who signs the check.

As long as we’re judging Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman, Dustin Johnson, and Bryson DeChambeau loud and clear, we might as well take the opportunity to look at our navels.

Despite the assassination 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 of this, Canada and the other G7 countries have never imposed real economic sanctions on Saudi Arabia.

Canada continues to fulfill its $15 billion contract to supply armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia as if nothing happened. In 2021, Canada sold $1.7 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, its 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 campaign, Joe Biden said he would stop selling them guns and treat this country as an “outcast.” Turnaround: Washington now wants to persuade Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production (in hopes of falling oil prices) and President Biden plans to pay an official visit there in the summer. We no longer have the pariahs we used to have.

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

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