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Saudi Arabia's MBS calls PGA Tour deal 'game-changer,' doesn't care about sportswashing accusations

September 21, 2023

Anadolu Agency

In an interview with FOX News, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says he “doesn’t care” about sportswashing accusations regarding his kingdom’s sports investments, which include LIV Golf and a planned partnership with the PGA Tour.

“Well if sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by one percent, then I will continue doing sportswashing,” bin Salman said in a clip aired Wednesday on "Special Report with Bret Baier."

Bin Salman, 37, is the crown prince, deputy prime minister and minister of defense of Saudi Arabia. His father, Salman bin Abdulaziz, is the country’s king, but bin Salman is considered the de facto ruler. Bin Salman introduced Vision 2030, a blueprint to diminish Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil by diversifying the economy and modernizing its public services. One of Vision 2030’s tenets is a “vibrant society,” and a means to reach this ambition is sports. It’s been a relatively successful venture, bringing in boxing, wrestling and tennis exhibitions, along with Formula 1 races to the kingdom. The country recently announced its bid to host the soccer AFC Women's Asian Cup, and in 2021 the Public Investment Fund—which is the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund—purchased an 80-percent stake in Newcastle United, a professional football club in the English Premier League. LIV Golf, and by extension, the Saudi government’s proposed business deal with the PGA Tour, falls under this effort.

Conversely, the Saudi government has been accused of myriad violations of human rights, especially towards the LGBTQ and women communities. The Saudis have led a military invention in Yemen—out of fear that Yemen could be a satellite for Iran—and the resulting civil war has become a humanitarian crisis. A 2017 purge of nearly 400 princes, businessmen and religious leaders consolidated authority over every branch of the government. Bin Salman has also continually and sometimes ruthlessly silenced dissidents. As such, critics have charged that Saudi Arabia’s athletic investments are nothing more than a form of propaganda to distract the Western world from the kingdom’s abuses.

Yet when pressed on FOX News if the “sportswashing” accusation bothered him, bin Salman replied, “I don’t care. I have one percent GDP growth from sport, and I am aiming for another one and a half percent. Call it whatever you want, we’re going to get that one and a half percent.”

Bin Salman also touched on the continued talks between his government’s financial arm and the PGA Tour. “That’s a game-changer for the golf industry. You will not have competition, and you will have focus developing the game, and that’s good for the players and the fans who love golf.”

Announced in June, the framework agreement between the tour and Saudi’s Public Investment Fund only broadly outlines how the tour, the DP World Tour and LIV Golf will exist. The surprise treaty calls for a new agreement to be completed by the end of the year. The deal also ended all litigation between the warring factions.

But obstacles remain for the PGA Tour-PIF partnership to ultimately come to fruition. The deal could be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which analyzes mergers regarding potential threats to the nation’s security. Additionally, the tour continues to be under an antitrust probe by the U.S. Department of Justice, and PIF’s investment into the tour is expected to fall under this investigation.