LIV Golf Investments has come to the defence of its chief executive Greg Norman after appearing to dismiss the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey as a ‘mistake’.
The journalist was assassinated at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul after criticising his country’s government, and a UN special rapporteur and the CIA have since claimed Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman gave the orders for the killing.
Norman was asked about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and sportswashing on Wednesday as he laid out his plans for his lucrative breakaway LIV Golf Invitational Series, which is financially backed by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the PIF.
LIV Golf Investments has defended Greg Norman (above) after branding Jamal Khashoggi’s murder a ‘mistake’
The journalist (above) was assassinated at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in 2018
WHAT IS SPORTSWASHING?
The term ‘sportswashing’ is the practice of using sport as a propaganda tool to improve the reputation of a nation, company or individual.
Nations with poor human rights records will often look to host major international sporting events with the hope it will gloss over their treatment of minorities and raise their diplomatic standing in the world.
Sportswashing also happens when companies or individuals with shady pasts sponsor sporting teams or events to win favour in their community or with government.
In reference to Khashoggi’s murder when speaking at the Centurion Club near St Albans this week, 67-year-old Norman said ‘we’ve all made mistakes’.
It has forced LIV Golf to come out and attempt to calm the situation down, insisting its chief does understand the severity of what happened in Turkey four years ago.
The company said in a released statement: ‘The killing of Jamal Khashoggi was reprehensible.
‘Everyone agrees about that, including Greg and he has said as such previously on many occasions. Greg also knows that golf is a force for good around the world and can help make inroads toward positive change.
‘That is why he is so excited about LIV and that was the point he was making.’
Norman caused controversy this week when in response to being asked about the murder of Khashoggi, said: ‘Everybody has owned up to it, right?
‘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.’
When asked about the 81 executions Saudi Arabia carried out in a single day in March, Norman said: ‘Quite honestly I look forward, I don’t look back. I don’t look into the politics of things. I heard about it and just kept moving on.’
He claimed the authoritarian regime that criminalises homosexuality and grants few freedoms to women was undergoing a cultural change and people should focus on the ‘good’.
‘This whole thing about Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi and human rights, talk about it, but also talk about the good the country is doing to change its culture,’ Norman said.
‘There’s not many countries that can stand up and be proud of that.
LIV Golf insists its chief executive does understand the severity of what happened in Turkey
‘They can’t be proud of their past — there’s a lot of countries in this world that have a cross to bear too — but they are looking after the younger generation.’
Amnesty International led the subsequent criticism, telling The Guardian: ‘Greg Norman’s remarks that the Saudi government’s brutal murder of Khashoggi and its attempted cover-up were a ”mistake” are wrong and seriously misguided.
‘Far from trying to ‘move on’, the Saudi authorities have attempted to sweep their crimes under the carpet, avoiding justice and accountability at every turn.
The CIA claim Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman gave the orders for the killing
‘The regime’s human rights record is an abomination – from its murder of Khashoggi to recent mass executions and the situation for LGBTI+ people, which continues to be dire.’
In comes in the latest instalment of the civil war involving golf, which on Friday saw Phil Mickelson withdraw from defending his US PGA Championship title.
Mickelson has been taking a break from golf since the fall-out from his explosive comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed breakaway spearheaded by Norman.
The PGA Tour rejected Mickelson’s request to grant players permission to play in St Albans next month, which offers a prize fund of £20million.
Golfing icon Phil Mickelson will not defend his title in next week’s US PGA Championship
With the DP World Tour believed to be following suit, the likes of Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood would be open to penalties should they play.
But Norman promised LIV Golf will pay the fines of any rebel who risks sanction to join his controversial, Saudi-backed breakaway – and even represent them in court.
‘They can fine you, ban you for life or temporarily suspend you,’ said Norman. ‘We have $2billion backing us, we have an incredible legal team and we are still going to defend the rights of the players.’