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Golfers walk on the 16th hole during the LIV Golf Invitational at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia, October 16, 2022.  © 2022 Chris Trotman/LIV Golf via Getty Images

By Leila Saad, Research Assistant 

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is attempting to “sportswash” the country’s egregious record of human rights violations through a new global golf tournament that begins later this month.

The Saudi-funded LIV Golf’s 2023 tournament will kick off on February 24 in Mexico and then move to Arizona, Florida, Australia, Singapore, Oklahoma, Washington DC, Spain, the United Kingdom, West Virginia, New Jersey, Chicago, Miami, and Saudi Arabia with the championship taking place in Jeddah on November 3.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF), controlled by Saudi Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known as MBS, owns a reported 93 percent controlling share in LIV Golf, raising serious concerns about the role the league may be playing to burnish Saudi Arabia’s image to “sportswash” ongoing abuses committed by Saudi authorities.

While the kingdom hosts these glamorous events, the Saudi government has intensified the crackdown on peaceful dissent and ramped up executions. Many Saudi activists and dissidents remain on trial or in prison receiving long sentences and some tortured.

Court documents reviewed by Human Rights Watch reveal that in 2017, one of MBS’s advisers ordered Yasir al-Rumayyan, then the PIF’s “supervisor,” to transfer 20 companies into the fund as part of an anti-corruption campaign. It’s possible these companies were “transferred” from their owners without due process. One of the companies transferred to the PIF was Sky Prime Aviation, a charter jet company that owned the planes used by Saudi agents to travel to Istanbul, where they murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate.

Professional golfers listed as participating in the 2023 tournament include Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Cam Smith, Sergio Garcia, Abraham Ancer, and Carlos Ortiz.

Human Rights Watch wrote to LIV Golf in August 2022, urging the league to develop a strategy to mitigate the risk of laundering the reputation of the Saudi government. There has been no answer or indication that LIV Golf sought to develop such a strategy.

The Crown Prince is rolling out ever more sporting events: sponsors should insist on human rights protections and disclosure and use LIV Golf events to demand human rights reforms. 

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