Backlash following PGA and LIV merger announcement

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The PGA and LIV (the Saudi Arabia-backed golf organization) recently announced they are merging. It has led to pushback from PGA players as well as others due to the political and human rights climate in Saudi Arabia.

When LIV started in 2021, many top PGA players refused to play on the circuit; in fact Tiger Woods turned down an $800 million paycheck to play in the tournaments. Rory McIlroy has also voiced his opposition. PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan, who was a critic of LIV, made the announcement, saying it was better to join forces.

The move is seen as sportswashing, where a country or group tries to rectify its image by buying or creating sports teams or events. Associate Teaching Professor Shawn Klein of ASU School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies joined us to discuss the merger.

The announcement was very surprising, according to Klein. Some of the PGA players were being offered a lot of money to play on the LIV tour, which caused acrimony between the PGA and LIV.

“Then you also have these other issues about the Saudi Arabian public investment fund being the money behind LIV, which also created controversy,” Klein said.

What is sportswashing?

Sportswashing takes place when a government or corporation with a bad reputation, usually involving human rights abuses or other bad deeds, tries to associate with something positive like sports to improve their own reputation by making people forget about their bad deeds, Klein said. A major criticism of sportswashing is that it doesn’t seem to be very effective.

Sportswashing has happened in the past, but this merger is a much bigger deal and investment, Klein said.

Concerning the moral complications of Saudi Arabia’s government, sportswashing “doesn’t look like it’s really doing anything to distract us from that. It’s actually bringing light to that, which might actually help open that up and liberalize those societies a bit more. That’s the hope on that side. I think we do better with engagement rather than isolation with countries like this,” Klein said.

Shawn Klein, Associate Teaching Professor, ASU School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

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