The Universal Notebook: ‘Sportswashing’ Saudi sins

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The Professional Golfers’ Association wasted no time in canceling the 2022 PGA Championship at Donald Trump’s Bedminster golf course after Trump and his MAGA mob attempted to overthrow the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Undeterred, the former president, who dotes on dictators, made Bedminster available to the LIV Invitational tournament funded by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.

Edgar Allen BeemA Swedish golfer who hadn’t won anything on the PGA tour for five years pocketed a cool $4 million by winning the LIV Invitational. Of course, a lot of other golfers made even more in guaranteed signing bonuses as the Saudis seek to establish an alternative to the PGA tour by paying golfers to jump ship. 

Those who do so are helping to “sportswash” the brutal Saudi regime.

Tiger Woods was offered $800 million to join the LIV tour. Even in his diminished capacity, Woods is still golf’s biggest attraction and the Saudis wanted him to become an ambassador for their corrupt kingdom. To his credit, Woods declined.

The “sportswashing” strategy seems to be backfiring on the Saudis. That’s because every time LIV Golf is written about in the mainstream press the subject of Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record and its connections to 9/11 come up. 

The terrorist attack of 9/11 hangs around the necks of Saudi sheiks like a dead albatross. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Saudi Arabia was a primary source of funding for al-Qaeda. President George Bush allowed prominent members of the House of Saud and the bin Laden family to fly out of the U.S. in private planes when all other flights were grounded. And 28 pages of the congressional report on the 9/11 attacks that connected the terrorists to two Saudi agents were suppressed and redacted.

Trump, of course, is happy to take Saudi money and son-in-law Jared Kushner is being investigated for a $2 billion investment the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the same fund behind LIV Golf, made in a business he set up only a few months after leaving office as Trump’s Middle East advisor. Talk about draining the swamp.

The families of 9/11 victims protested near Trump Bedminster, but Trump, as usual, responded with a lie that no one had ever really gotten to the bottom of 9/11.

Saudi Arabia has an abysmal human rights record. The U.S. ranks 15th on the Human Freedom Index tabulated by the Cato Institute; Saudi Arabia ranks 155th.

The U.S., of course, has its own human rights issues (racism and the world’s highest rate of incarceration topping the list), but Saudi Arabia is right up (or down) there when it comes to suppressing free speech and stifling criticism, murdering and jailing critics, treating women like chattel, imposing the death penalty (even on children) for minor offenses, and torturing prisoners.

We have come to expect Trump to kiss up to dictators, but when President Joe Biden fist-bumped Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is suspected of having approved the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it was unexpected and unacceptable, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (remember him?) observed.

“Look, you got a family that is worth $100 billion, which crushes democracy, which treats women as third-class citizens, which murders and imprisons its opponents,” Sanders said. “And if this country believes in anything, we believe in human rights, we believe in democracy, and I just don’t believe that we should be maintaining a warm relationship with a dictatorship like that.”

You know, maybe we should have elected Bernie after all.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.