For the love of Money is the Root of all Evil
If you haven’t been following the civil war that is currently engulfing the game of golf then, lucky you! You are lucky because you have not had to be remined to the greed of the human condition; the avarice that pervades professional sport. If you haven’t been following the story then you won’t have had to observe highly paid individuals fail to know when enough money was enough money. In
a time of global insecurity and rampant inflation, some golfer’s moral compass is just askew and they don’t seem to care as long as the dollars keep rolling.
LIV Golf is a rival to the two established golf tours in the game. The PGA Tour is the big one and operates mainly in the US. This is where the players in the top echelons operate and where the rewards for success are outrageously high. Not high enough apparently. The second golf tour is the DP World Tour which you may remember as the European Tour. It’s tentacles have extended into South Africa, and the Gulf states and hence the rebrand from European Tour to World Tour. Prize money on the DP World Tour is certainly less than that on the PGA Tour but it is by no means insignificant. For example, the curtain comes down for the DP World Tour at the season ending World Tour Championship in Dubai in November and this event has a prize money budget of US$10 million. Like I said, not insignificant.
And then you have the four Major Championships, but more about those championships on another day. LIV Golf is funded by the Saudi Arabian State. A state that has a more than imperfect human rights record. And Saudi is trying to repair its reputation internationally and has chosen the game of golf as a vehicle in which to wash its name clean. Its called sports washing. It has identified a sport that attracts its largest following from white, middle class America as it’s preferred vehicle and is luring the top golfers in the world away from both the PGA and the DP World Tour with eye watering amounts of money. For example, in arguably its biggest coup to date, LIV golf have persuaded the six time major winner to jump over to their bandwagon with a reported contract of US$200 million, half of which was paid upfront. And that money is just for him to show up and play. If he wins then more dollars will be lodged to the Bank of Phil. Even if he finishes last, dollars pore in. It is vulgar in the extreme.
Even the Captain of the European Ryder Cup team, Henrick Stenson, has had his head turned and as a consequence has been stripped of the captaincy. He was due to lead Europe against the US team next year. But so enraged are the DP Tour at his defection, they have removed this honour from him.
So when he made his winning debut at the LIV Golf Tournament in Bedminster last weekend he earned US$4 million plus another $375,000 for a team competition run at the same time. That softened the blow of having been stripped of the captaincy no doubt.
The standoff between LIV Golf and the main tours is turning nasty. Players who have remained loyal to the PGA Tour are threatening to boycott tournaments that LIV golfers are allowed to play in.
What they don’t want is for the LIV golfers to cherry pick the PGA events that they will play in alongside the lucrative LIV events. Because were that to happen, the LIV golfers would choose the more lucrative PGA Tour events such as the Players Championship and disregard lesser events such as this weekend’s Wyndham Championship. It is worth noting that the prize money on offer this weekend in North Carolina is US$7.5 million, but that is considered small potatoes by our friends at LIV Golf.
The fact that these golfers are all too aware of the politics behind this charade makes it altogether worse. Bad enough to jump ship for greed when the current day job paid so handsomely. Worse still to allow your name to used by a Government with a questionable human rights record. Before the opening LIV Golf event, a handful of European Golfers were asked if, hypothetically, there were an equivalent Tour organised and funded by Russia and spearheaded by Vladimir Putin, would they join that Tour for similar money. None would answer the question. The players hope that the world looks the other way when it comes to human rights. In an extraordinary display of tone deafness, Greg Norman, frontman for LIV Golf, when asked about the death and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi said that everyone makes mistakes.
The golfers point out that everyone does business with Saudi Arabia and the Western World accepts their oil despite the human rights record. This is absolutely correct. But to liken the harsh realities of geo-political necessities with sports washing misses the point. LIV Golf is a PR stunt pure and simple and the golfers are the stunt men. They are being paid vast amounts of money to promote a state that wants to clean up its international reputation. They are pawns, sheep, mercenaries. Global oil production keeps humanity going, playing golf does not. The world that we have constructed unfortunately is addicted to oil and were the Saudi oil taps to be turned off right now, people would suffer worldwide. If LIV Golf turned its cash taps off right now, no one would suffer.
Not even the golfers on LIV Golf’s books as most, if not all, are fabulously rich as it is.
To cite another comparison, the Saudi state has recently purchased Newcastle United Football Club, a sleeping giant of English football. They paid around £300 million for the club and immediately had to pump in £169 million in equity to try and bring some balance to the books. Can we make the same argument about the Newcastle United players that we make about the LIV Golfers. Not really, because the players didn’t have a choice. Their employer changed, that is all. They were not tempted by millions of pounds to jump ship and join the club, they were already there. Whilst professional footballers can often have greedy tendencies, they were not conscious decision makers in who was paying their wages.
What will the next sports washing venture be for the Saudi’s. What would our reaction be of they became the main sponsor of the FAI? Imagine if they promised to write off the enormous debt burden that hangs around the neck of the governing body of Irish football. What would our reaction be to such a gift, a gift that could unleash great potential in Irish football and rid us of the burdens of the past. It would be informative what the public reaction would be if such a move, however improbable, might be. Because they temptation could be, ‘well everyone else is taking their money, so why shouldn’t we?’
But sport has been down this road before. Remember ill-fated rebel rugby tours to South Africa during the apartheid era? Remember Allen Stanford and his vision for a brave new world in cricket? Stanford was convicted of a massive fraud in 2012 and is currently serving a 110 year prison term.
Rugby in the Southern Hemisphere is teetering on the brink of committing grievous harm on itself in disputes over, what else, money. The once mighty Super Rugby is on the brink of collapse, the South African franchises headed north and joined the Pro-14 Celtic and Italian cousins. South Africa is
serious about wanting to leave the Rugby championship and try to join the Six Nations. Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest is attempting to revive his Rapid Rugby project which was derailed by the pandemic. If he succeeds, an insurmountable wedge will be lodged between Australian and New Zealand Rugby Unions. Matt Williams writing this week said: This would undermine the Kiwis’ power base by attracting many New Zealand players into a competition that could include teams from Argentina, Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands plus the Australia Super franchises. All backed by real money from (Forrest’s) mega mining conglomeration in Western Australia.
This is not to suggest that Andrew Forrest is engaged in sports washing, well not yet anyway, but mining is hardly doing wonders for his environmental credentials.
We have seen in recent weekend’s the value of a sport unburdened by money. Despite the July finish to the intercounty season, we had some super games in both GAA codes over the past few months. And no one was getting paid. The club season is back in full swing, and no one is getting paid. No, I am not that naive. I realize that under the counter payments take place. I know some managers charge a kings ransom for their services and it never appears in the audited accounts.
But think on. Think about what might happen if we tinker with the amateur status of our games.
Because, as evidenced above, money really is the root of all evil.