Saudi Arabia, a country that recently made the radical decision to allow women to drive, is now a stage of the European tour. Surprisingly, since until recently, women were not even allowed to watch sports events in Saudi Arabia, there is even talk of a women's tournament in the kingdom. (Insert your joke about the country that finally welcomes the female pilots here.)
"Saudi Arabia's old story that it is separate is no longer applicable," Majed Al-Sorour, chairman of the Saudi Golf Federation, said last week.
Would I have wanted to play during my days on the professional circuit? The answer is almost certainly no, and I'm sure many of my professional colleagues would have felt the same way. To what extent would we be comfortable in a country where women and girls are not allowed to swim in public, play sports in public schools, or have prolonged interaction with men with whom they are not? not related?
And can you imagine what would be the reaction of a golfer if she destroyed the greens angrily in the same way as Sergio Garcia? Obviously, we can assume that she would have been treated differently, because wearing a miniskirt can make you stop and talk can result in torture. And, of course, all homosexual players would be competing in a country where homosexual acts are punishable by death. This is before moving on to other red flags, such as the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, and the country's involvement in the civil war in Yemen.
The men's inaugural tournament, funded by the Saudi government to help promote the country, was held last week and few professionals seemed upset. Paul Casey has stayed out, to his credit, as has Tiger Woods, although he has spent his time playing golf with Donald Trump, which is almost as dubious. Journalists, including Guardian's Marina Hyde and Ewan Murray, have expressed disapproval and the European Tour has been forced to defend its decision to hold a tournament in the country, saying the Middle East is one of the most rare regions where the climate is conducive. during the winter of the northern hemisphere.
But golfers who have agreed to play after receiving considerable gaming fees? Well, according to them, golfers must play golf. The world number one, Justin Rose, said, "I'm not a politician, I'm a golfer," while Dustin Johnson, known for his intelligence and depth, added, "I'm going there to practice a sport for which I am paid. to play. It's my job to play golf. And, presumably, help with sports laundry in a country where journalists find themselves dismembered in consulates.
"I'm not a politician, I'm a golfer": Justin Rose expresses in Saudi Arabia – video
Garcia, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson also took part in the trip. They are all multimillionaires, which means they have no compelling financial reason to participate in the tournament. One could argue that there are ranking points in play. However, there are many other tournaments that they could play and that would certainly make up for any shortfall.
Nothing justifies holding or playing an event in Saudi Arabia, regardless of the financial difficulties of the European Tour, regardless of the duty or the duties of these golfers, to feel that they must "play golf", as the said Johnson.
As for the networks that broadcast the tournament, they are equally guilty, as well as the publications that largely cover the event. It deserved no significant coverage, expect to emphasize how difficult it is to normalize a country where women's rights activists are beaten and tortured. The only type of coverage that an event like this should receive is to call each person who played it, each company that sponsored it, and the European Tour for paying tribute to the Saudi government. in the same way that the US government did after death. from Khashoggi.
The alliance of this European tour with Saudi Arabia only underscores the need for sport to go beyond the mere accumulation of cash. Instead, they abandoned one of the principles of golf: the importance of personal responsibility.