Two-time major champion Greg Norman said the new Saudi-backed golf league that he’s CEO of is not attempting to “sportswash” Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuse.
Norman – chief executive of the LIV Golf Invitational, funded primarily by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – appeared to downplay the 2018 killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a media day on Wednesday. The LIV Golf Invitational is scheduled to have its inaugural event next month at Centurion Golf Club outside of London.
“Everybody has owned up to it, right?” Norman said, according to the London-based newspaper The Times. “It has been spoken about, from what I’ve read, going on what you guys reported. Take ownership, no matter what it is. Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.”
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Norman, 67, shared similar comments during an interview with Sky Sports when asked about Khashoggi and other human rights abuses by the Saudi Arabian government, including the mass execution of 81 people in March.
“It’s reprehensible what happened with Khashoggi. Own up to it, talk about it,” he said. “I’m not going to get into politics, I don’t know what the Saudi government does. I don’t want to get into that. Every country has a cross to bear.”
Norman, who won the British Open in 1986 and 1993, said LIV golf is non-political and is not associated with Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.
“They’re not my bosses. We’re independent. I do not answer to Saudi Arabia. I do not answer to MBS (Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud),” he said. “I answer to my board of directors, and MBS is not on that. Simple as that.”
Norman, however, said Saudi Arabia is undergoing “a cultural change” through golf.
“The generation of kids that I see today on the driving range, they don’t want that stigma going on into generations and their kids,” he said. “They want to change that culture and they are changing it. And you know how they’re doing it? Golf.”
Norman’s comments come after the PGA Tour denied its members permission to play in the Saudi-funded golf tournament in London next month. The denials were sent to players who had sought permission late Tuesday afternoon.
It had been expected that the PGA Tour would grant waivers for the LIV Golf Invitational event near London because of a precedent allowing players limited releases for overseas events. (All members are required to seek a conflicting event release to compete in non-Tour events.)
However, it is thought the decision is based on a belief that the event in the UK is effectively part of a rival series. LIV Golf announced a schedule of eight tournaments with plans for more to come.
The first LIV Golf Invitational is scheduled for June 9-11 at Centurion Golf Club outside of London, with a 48-man field competing for a $20 million purse over 54 holes. The winner gets $4 million — to date the richest prize in golf — and last place gets $120,000.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Eamon Lynch, Golf Week