Golfers playing in a new Saudi Arabian tournament have become “ventriloquists for an abhorrent regime”, a former pro has claimed.
Pressure has been growing on professional golfers not to play in the kingdom’s first European tour event after leading British professional Paul Casey confirmed he was not taking part.
US golf commentator and former pro Brandel Chamblee told NBC Golf it was up to players to deliver a “personal rebuke” over the state’s “egregious human atrocities”.
Millions of dollars in appearance fees are being offered for the Saudi International, according to golfing media, as the country increases its move towards a more diversified economy under reforms by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
It comes in the wake of the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s Istanbul consulate, as well as criticism over its air raids in Yemen and treatment of women and LGBTQ people.
Chamblee said: “To turn a blind eye to the butchering of a media member in some way euphemises the egregious human atrocities that not only took place with Jamal Khashoggi but that go on there all the time… – politically I get why you have to capitulate to Saudi Arabia and maybe from a business standpoint, even, but a more definitive personal rebuke can be shown to the PR stunt of this regime, which is really trying to hoodwink the West – that’s all they are trying to do here – by refusing to participate.
“Your participation in some way enriches this regime, and by non-participation of the athletes in general, you can in some marginal way – and I applaud Paul Casey – make a statement about human rights.
“By participating, the players, they are a ventriloquist for this abhorrent regime.”
On Friday, Casey, a UNICEF ambassador, said on Instagram: “As I continue to face questions about my participation I feel it is important to clarify that I will not be playing in next week’s Saudi International event.
“Plus, contrary to reports, I had also never signed a contract to play.”
Earlier in the month, Casey, who last April was listed as “confirmed” for the tournament, had explained: “There were a lot of questions. Do I want to go to Saudi? That was the main question.
“There are a lot of places in the world that I have played and continue to go, which you could question … some human rights violations that governments have committed. I thought I’d sit this one out.”
Among those taking part are the world’s top three ranked players – Englishman Justin Rose and Americans Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson.
England’s Ian Poulter and former Europe Ryder Cup captain Sergio Garcia are also signed on to play at the event at the Royal Greens G&CC in the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).
Rose, who is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, said there were a number of reasons he was taking part.
“I’m not a politician, I’m a pro golfer,” he was reported as saying by NBC Golf on Sunday night.
“There’s other reasons to go play it. It’s a good field, there’s going to be a lot of world ranking points to play for, by all accounts it’s a good golf course and it will be an experience to experience Saudi Arabia.”