Cameron Smith joins seven other Australians for controversial Saudi-run golf tour

Australia’s Cameron Smith, world No.2 and reigning British Open champion, has joined the rebel golf circuit LIV Golf.
Confirmation of a long-suspected move came with an official announcement from the Saudi-backed organisation on Tuesday.
Compatriot Marc Leishman has also signed up to the new body, the arrival of which has split golf.
They bring the number of Australians on board with LIV to eight with Matt Jones the next biggest name of the group.

Australian LIV CEO Greg Norman revealed earlier this month the circuit is looking to hold an event Down Under in 2023 and have been scouting potential venues.

Greg Norman (right) is one of the world’s most recognisable golfing legends. Now, he’s under great scrutiny by his peers because of his new venture that has the financial backing of Saudi Arabia. Source: SBS News

“The biggest thing for me joining is [LIV’s] schedule is really appealing,” Smith told Golf Digest. “I’ll be able to spend more time at home in Australia and maybe have an event down there, as well. I haven’t been able to do that, and to get that part of my life back was really appealing.”

However, he admitted the financial rewards were also tempting – Smith is reported to have received a US$100 million ($145 million) signing-on fee.
“[That] was definitely a factor in making that decision, I won’t ignore that or say that wasn’t a reason,” Smith said. “It was obviously a business decision for one and an offer I couldn’t ignore.”
Smith and Leishman are among six players joining the circuit in time for its fourth event, at The International course in Boston teeing off on 2-4 September .
Smith, aged 29 from Brisbane, is the first current top-10 player to join LIV. He has had a stellar season winning the Players Championship as well as the Open. He was also tied for third at The Masters, one of three top-5 Masters finishes in the last five years.
Leishman, 38 from Victoria, has won six PGA Tour events during his career. Now ranked 62nd in the world he has reached No.12 in the past and has twice finished in the top five in both the Open and the Masters. However, he has missed the cut in seven of his last 15 major appearances.
Both players are still eligible for the Australian PGA and Australian Open but will not be considered for next month’s President’s Cup.
The $36 million Boston event features a 48-man field playing 54 holes. Other Australians in the field besides Smith, Leishman and Jones are current Australian PGA champion Jediah Morgan and Wade Ormsby.
Also on Tuesday, in a move that appeared to be aimed at LIV golfers, Europe doubled the number of wild cards available to their Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald for next year’s event in Rome.

Six of the 12 players will now be at Donald’s discretion with the others being the three leading players on the European Points List, followed by the three leading players on the World Points List.

Greg Norman holds his second Claret Jug after winning the 122nd British Open Championship in 1993.

Greg Norman holds his second Claret Jug after winning the 122nd British Open Championship in 1993. Source: Getty / David Cannon

What is LIV golf and why is it so controversial?

Greg Norman was announced as the chief executive in October last year of the US$24 million ($35.5 million) LIV Golf tournament, at 66 years of age.
The Australian golfing champion, known as “The Shark”, earned his place in the history books by winning twice at the British Open, the oldest golf tournament in the world.
The LIV Golf competition describes itself as “golf, but louder”, and according to the tournament website, says it will “help transform it to the sport it’s destined to become.”
It’s a firm rival to the establishment. LIV golf runs separately to the PGA Tour, which runs the world’s biggest golf competitions. Prize money for LIV tournaments far exceeds that on offer by the PGA and two LIV events have been held so far.
But the PGA Tour will not release players to participate in LIV events, and several golfers have been suspended for defecting. Australian golfer Wayne Grady referred to the impact on the PGA Tour as an “absolute disgrace” in a social media post in May.
But along with fragmenting the players’ group, Norman has drawn the ire of critics over the venture being financially backed by Saudi Arabia’s wealthy sovereign fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Critics have accused the former world number one of being complicit with Saudi Arabia in “sportswashing”.

What is sportswashing?

Sportswashing is the practice of using sport “as a vehicle to try and overcome or change a country or institution’s reputation”, according to the director of the Brisbane 2032 Olympics engagement at Griffith University, Caroline Riot.
Many critics have argued that

through PIF is ‘sportswashing’ its reputation amid allegations of human rights abuses.

Saudi Arabia has been the subject of criticism after journalist
was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018. During his career, he was outspoken against the government. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has denied responsibility for the killing.
“The challenge that we see in this particular case is the very well-known and established and high-profile human rights violations of the Saudis,” Ms Riot said.
Amnesty Australia’s campaigner Nikita White said despite attempts to improve Saudi Arabia’s PR image, it remains the nation that orders the most executions in the world, with lagging rights for women as well as LGBTIQ+ people.

AAP with Rayane Tamer

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