Phil Mickelson grilled on Saudi golf series participation

Sports

(NewsNation) —  Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson is returning to golf with the LIV Golf Invitational series, despite scrutiny from a human rights group for signing with the league backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

The new golf series will be making its debut this week, but it’s already divided golfers from around the world. While many have decided to stay and play in PGA-sponsored events, a handful have opted to join the LIV Golf International Series. The main reason? Money. There’s $225 million up for grabs.

Some of golf’s biggest names have jumped ship from the PGA in favor of the new Saudi-funded league, including former World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Masters Champion Sergio Garcia, as well as Mickelson.

The six time champion confirmed his move to the LIV league after four months in self-imposed exile from the sport after making remarks in which he disparaged the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.

“I understand people have very strong opinions and may disagree with my decision,” Mickelson said when asked to expand on his apology after his February comments, “and I can empathize with that.”

Phil Mickelson in action during the Pro-Am at the Centurion Club, Hertfordshire, England, ahead of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, Wednesday June 8, 2022. (Steven Paston/PA via AP)

Mickelson previously said he wouldn’t consider joining the league because of the government’s record on human rights.

“I don’t condone human rights violations,” Mickelson said at a news conference Wednesday.

When asked about the Saudi government’s record of human rights violations, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell had this to say: “I think as golfers, if we tried to cure geopolitical situations in every country in the world that we play golf in, we wouldn’t play a lot of golf. It’s a really hard question to answer. We’re just here to focus on the golf and to have what it does globally for the role models that these guys are and that we are. And yeah, that’s a really hard question to get into.”

Human rights activists say players are engaging in “sportswashing” — helping a country improve its image through events with popular athletes.

“Saudi Arabia has become more repressive in recent years, not less,” Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International UK, told the Associated Press. “Human rights defenders and peaceful critics have been locked up, torture in jails is rife, and mass executions have shocked the world. Rather than acting as the willing stooges of Saudi sportswashing, we’d like to see golfers at the LIV Golf Invitational speaking out about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.”

Despite the cash being thrown around, the biggest name in golf, Tiger Woods turned down an unheard-of offer from the league. It’s a staggering amount in the ballpark of $1 billion. Woods says he believes in the legacy of the PGA.

It’s not just golfers taking money from the Saudi government; big money is influencing other sports, too. Formula One cut a deal for $800  million and just held their Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia. WWE also held their Crown Jewel event there, even though their female wrestlers could not perform.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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