Graeme McDowell stunned by uncomfortable questions during a visit to the Saudi rebels

The stars of the new Saudi-funded golf league have tried to allay concerns about human rights abuses and have signed up to receive millions of dollars despite the risk of being banned from long-term events.

After announcing he was leaving the PGA Tour to join the LIV Golf Series, Dustin Johnson avoided questioning the source of the $ 34 million prize fund for each event that flowed from Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund. The first LIV Golf Invitational is being held outside London since Thursday.

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Another former major winner – Graeme McDowell – was released at a press conference in an attempt to publicly reconcile the cracks in golf by signing for the Rebel series, which appears to be part of an effort to rebuild his image as a supporter of Saudi Arabia’s fancy sporting event. One involved in human rights violations.

The Northern Irish golfer, who won the US Open and Ryder Cup in 2010, cited the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 as a legitimate area of ​​concern to join a series that he acknowledged was “incredibly polarizing”. Game.

“Take the Khashogi situation,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. No one will argue with this fact. “

U.S. intelligence agencies say they believe the U.S.-based Saudi journalist was killed at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the head of the Public Investment Fund. The prince denies injustice.

The fund is providing millions of dollars in sign-on fees and rewards, which is taking players away from established tours and jeopardizing their participation in the Major and Rider Cups.

Human rights groups have described Saudi Arabia’s efforts as “image-washing” of its image.

McDowell tried to avoid talking about the country for which he was effectively working.

“I really feel like a good force in the golf world – I just try to be a great role model for kids,” he said. “We are not politicians. I know you hate this expression, but unfortunately we are not. We are professional golfers.

“If Saudi Arabia wants to use golf as a way for them to get where they want to go and have the resources to accelerate that experience, I think we are proud to be able to use golf to help them on that journey and to increase the sport and they We have to be able to take it wherever it wants to be. “

However, McDowell was asked how the trip is helping oppressed women in Saudi Arabia, LGBTQ people whose right to life has been violated, migrant workers whose rights have been violated, Saudi-led bombings in Yemen, or the state’s execution in March. 61 men?

“If only I had the ability to have that conversation with you,” McDowell said. “As golfers, if we try to heal the geopolitical situation in every country in the world where we play golf, we will not play too much golf. It is a really difficult question to answer.

“We’re here just to focus on golf and what it does worldwide for these guys role models.”

McDowell spoke mostly about Saudi rights, with Johnson, a two-time major winner, responding earlier: “I would say almost the same thing. I agree with what Graeme has said. “

Johnson resigned his PGA Tour membership to take part in the new golf series, saying he had to “think long and hard” about leaving the PGA Tour, seemingly ending his hopes of competing in the Ryder Cup in the United States.

“Finally, I decided to come and do it,” said Johnson at Centurion Club. “I’m excited about it. Obviously the Ryder Cup is incredible and something that makes a lot of sense to me. … Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do it again, but I don’t make rules.”

The series is overseen by Greg Norman with a 54-hole tournament and a shotgun start that starts each group in different holes at the same time. The winner gets $ 5.5 million, while the last place gets $ 166,000.

Golfers are getting hotter than other athletes competing in Saudi Arabia. Sports, including golf, soccer and Formula One, have chosen to take events to Saudi Arabia without stars, LIV is an event where players break out of existing structures to go all out on state projects. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are among the players who rejected a procedure from LIV.

“Such an opportunity comes,” said McDowell, 42, “where you can play the last three or four years of your career in a very financially lucrative environment. It would be crazy to be a businessman and move away from that. “

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, under the presidency of George W. Bush, hosted two press conferences with the players on Tuesday. He raised questions with the golfers before getting a chance in front of the media.

Fleischer was asked about a tweet posted in 2011 that spoke of Saudi Arabia and said the king was “willing to spend hundreds of billions so that he would not be ousted.” He said the comment was made “long, long ago”.

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