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Senators to ask PGA Tour execs why they pivoted from slamming rival LIV to merging with it

Henry Epp Jul 11, 2023
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Major state investment in a sport to call attention away from a record of human rights abuses is called sportswashing, says Wharton professor Kenneth Shropshire. Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

Senators to ask PGA Tour execs why they pivoted from slamming rival LIV to merging with it

Henry Epp Jul 11, 2023
Heard on:
Major state investment in a sport to call attention away from a record of human rights abuses is called sportswashing, says Wharton professor Kenneth Shropshire. Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images
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Golf is on the agenda for a Senate subcommittee later this morning when lawmakers will have a chance to grill two leaders of the PGA Tour. After months of vocally criticizing the rival LIV tour’s owners, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fun, and the kingdom’s record of human rights abuses, it suddenly announced the two competitions will merge

The PGA Tour had a lock on men’s professional golf until the Saudi government’s investment arm poured money into the LIV tour.

That kind of investment by a state with a record of human rights abuses, a poor treatment of women, and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is known as “sportswashing,” said Kenneth Shropshire, a professor emeritus at Wharton.

“It’s been a successful path, to get the public to think positively about a location that maybe they haven’t traditionally thought positively about,” he said.

Meanwhile, the massive prizes on the LIV tour threatened the viability of the PGA, said Brooklyn Law School professor Jodi Balsam.

“They need to incentivize golfers to continue to participate and make the investment career wise and monetarily in this game,” she said. “And they would not be able to do it without a serious infusion of cash.”

Team sports in America could soon face this question too, said Nellie Drew at the University at Buffalo, in part because the cost of running a franchise is climbing fast.

“So now you’ve got this very limited pool of people in the world who can actually amass the type of capital you need to purchase and run a professional sports franchise,” she said.

And, she said, a lot of people in that pool happen to live in Saudi Arabia.

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