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British Open 2023: R&A says 'senior player' was targeted by protesters last year at St. Andrews

July 19, 2023

HOYLAKE, England — One frequent topic of conversation before this year's Open Championship at Royal Liverpool has almost nothing to do with golf. The British environmental activist group Just Stop Oil, found in February 2022, has employed as one of its chief tactics the disruption of sporting events in the U.K. Just this year, the group staged protests at the World Snooker Championship, the Rugby Premiership final, the Ashes cricket series and Wimbledon. In each case, activists threw something orange—paint powder, confetti, and even jigsaw pieces—onto the field of play.

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Julian Finney

Earlier this week, the R&A said that the Open was on a high security alert as a potential target, warning players and caddies not to get involved should protests occur. In expanding on that during a Wednesday pre-tournament press conference, R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers said there is no direct intelligence pointing to anything, but revealed that a year ago at St. Andrews there actually was information that an attack was imminent on an unnamed player competing at The 150th Open.

"Most people in this room don't know that The Open was targeted last year," Slumbers said, adding later that "we had a very credible threat that … was reported to us through a journalist that's in this room who very kindly and responsibly informed us that one of the most senior players in the field was going to be targeted by an environmental activist. That's all I really want to say."

According to Slumbers, that journalist—present in the room Wednesday, but otherwise unidentified—informed the R&A that the threat was imminent, and they heightened security. No protest unfolded, and Slumbers further said that there was no specific intelligence around any protest this year.

"We've had no direct intelligence," Slumbers said for this year at Hoylake. "We have significant security procedures in place. We work clearly with the law enforcement agencies, and we'll wait and see what happens. You will have seen that we advised the players, 'please don't get involved,' and I stand by that. We have enough things in place to be able to deal with it."

On its website, Just Stop Oil describes itself as a "nonviolent civil resistance group demanding the U.K. government stop licensing all new oil, gas and coal projects." They operate in a non-hierarchical structure, without formal leadership, and according to their own figures, members have been arrested more than 2,100 times, with approximately 138 spending time in prison.

Along with disrupting sporting events, the group has engaged in traffic blocking protests, blockades of oil facilities, and vandalism on gas pumps on English highways. Last summer, two members glued their hands to the side of a Vincent Van Gough painting, earning national attention, and a week later, two other supporters conducted the same protest with Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

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Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilize both names in its coverage.

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