Don’t fall for sportswashing


As journalists, we are biased when it comes to LIV Golf, and make no apologies for it.

If you’re not familiar with LIV Golf, it’s a professional golf tour that’s being financed by the Saudi government. Professional golfers are being paid millions of dollars just to play on that tour — not for winning tournaments, but for the reputations they built as members of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of America.

Why? Because the Saudis have a lot to cleanse.

“I define sportswashing as when political leaders use sports to appear important or legitimate on the world stage,” Jules Boykoff, a professor of politics and government at Pacific University, told Yahoo Sports in a story about the new golf league, “while stoking nationalism and deflecting attention from chronic social problems back home.”

The same article points out that while “sportswashing” is a new term, it has historic context. Notably, sportswashing was used by Adolph Hitler in staging the 1936 Olympics in Berlin to build goodwill and national pride that helped Hitler “consolidate power and aim higher in the years leading up to World War II afterward.”

So what do the Saudis have to wash? Let’s start with Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post reporter who was killed and dismembered in 2018 at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi had written opinion pieces for the Washington Post speaking out against “the public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to express opinions contrary to those of my country’s leadership.”

According to a 2021 report in the Post, a U.S. Intelligence report found that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “approved” of the murder of Khashoggi, whose columns had been critical of the Saudi regime. The report concluded that the operation would not have occurred without the authorization of the crown prince. “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Khashoggi,” the report said, according to the Post. “Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization.”

The U.S. has a complicated relationship with the Saudis. The Biden administration has been criticized for the president’s recent visit to the country, and his fist bump with bin Salman. Biden went to Saudi Arabia to convince the Saudis to increase oil production.

It’s disappointing, to say the least, that we’re in the position of having what U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders called a “warm relationship with a dictatorship” — particularly a country that’s been accused of human rights atrocities, and which treats women as second-class citizens.

As a country we may have to play nice, but the PGA is correct in putting sanctions on players who have abandoned their principles and are taking Saudi millions — Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson among them. There have been 17 PGA players suspended from playing in PGA tournaments as a result of their decision to play in LIV tournaments, including the one recently held in Bolton.

It is encouraging to see PGA legends Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, among others, strongly speak out against LIV Golf and what amounts to an easy and sleazy paycheck.

It was particularly distasteful that the LIV tournament came to the Boston area a week ahead of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. While the 9/11 Commission found “no credible evidence” that Saudi Arabia played a role in the attacks, there are lingering questions about the association between Saudi national Omar al-Bayoumi and the hijackers responsible for the attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans. In another distasteful act, former President Donald Trump hosted a tournament in July at his New Jersey country club in Bedminster. The tournament drew protests by the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, who expressed outrage at a Saudi-sponsored tournament being held by a former president and so close to where the attacks occurred.

Typically, we wouldn’t pay much attention to a fledgling sports league, but LIV Golf is more than that. We need to continue to point out this attempt to “wash” the atrocities of Saudi Arabia through sports in the hopes that it will continue to backfire. LIV Golf is billed as “golf, only louder.” We hope people will continue to look past the noise.


  1. FDR had a ”warm relationship” with Uncle Joe Stalin who also ran a dictatorship that makes the Saudis look like Sunday school kids. FDR naivete and treaties with Uncle Joe kept me locked behind the iron curtain for 5 years more than I should have been. As for indignation about Saudi over Khashoggi, we have known about Saudi mischief and terror for 50 years and to get excited about one killing is dumb. By the way the NBA is sportswashing with China.

    • I’m curious how many gruesome killings are worth getting excited about to a supposed pro-life person— without it being dumb.

      • Jackie try to read carefully. Of course it was a tragic killing but not a surprising one. Liberals just woke up to Saudi after the Khashoggi killing. Saudis have been doing this stuff a long time.

    • andy– what makes you think you had any more right to get into the United States than a refugee from Guatemala today ?
      Boo freking hoo for you that you had to wait 5 years to make my country “dirtier”, as Tucker Carlson says about refugees.
      if you really care, pray for Jose and his family– they are living in squalor on the Mexican side of the border.

      • No one has a right to be in the USA except those who are lawfully here. So if your example of a “refugee from Guatemala today” follows the law and is actually truthful about the circumstances if the “migration,” we can deal with that. That (truthfulness) however, even you would have to admit is seldom the circumstance. Wanting a better life is not among the lawful

  2. Keller what dont you understand about legal versus illegal? My mother waited 6 years for entry to the US and I waited another 3 years separated from her. We filled out forms. I became a naturalized citizen 5 years after I arrived. No one is arguing conditions in 3rd world countries. I have lived in them and seen everything. You and Jackie never miss a chance to take a shot at someone rather than arguing on merits.

  3. Jamal paid for Adnan’s sins…now back to golf…how funny is it watching and listening to country club studs having a public pissing contest…coming soon…full contact golf…

  4. What Smyth is alluding to if you dont know is that the Saudi government has given millions to Khashoggi children and houses as part of a settlement. They are doing rather well.

  5. LIV golf is another disgusting way to creep into America and eventually become a regular household name.
    Andrew if you are not happy here I am positive that you are welcome to return to your country of birth.
    You sound like a very unhappy human being.
    I don’t believe that any life taken for a opinion against a leader in a country known for murder and violence against anyone who might not follow the ruler.

    • Ms Leonard. I am very happy here. Where did you get that idea? This country is going down the drain very quickly but I cant think of any other place to go.
      Besides I like posting on this site in contrarian style which is so easy with the liberals. I guess I could still do it from New Zealand.

      • Andy, New Zealand is simply crawling with Liberals.
        Go live among your own kind, like in Florida, or better still in liberated Ukarine.
        Provide Conservative leadership.

  6. As one who has been trying to learn golf while following the PGA tour since the 50’s, I am appalled and embarrassed that players who became famous and wildly rich have abandoned their roots. Prize money when I started following golf would occasionally reach 5 figures. Rory just took home about $25 million for winning The “Fedex Cup”. Golf teaches one that there is only one right way to follow the rules. Little ambiguity. I say “Dance with the one that brung ya”. I see enormous damage being inflicted on the sellouts who have sought greener pastures. The Saudi’s philosophy should clearly be antithetical to honorable sportsmen. I hope they all get a full throated bite in the ass.

  7. More gems from Mr Engelman. The “Khashoggi children..are doing quite well” he says. As if he could possibly know how well they are doing. There is a very good chance that this event has caused some of his children irreparable emotional harm. Are they doing so well they wouldn’t trade all of their settlement to have their father be alive? Only someone who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing would say such a thing.

    • Harrison– andy is enamored with a religious philosophy that one can buy indulgences from the church and avoid hell.
      He supports a person who pays off porn stars who have “sex” with him, but preaches about christian morality and condemns people for their sexual preferences.
      He supports a man who is married (for the third time) to a woman that you can easily find pictures of, nude, in bed with a woman while condemning homosexuality.
      He supports a man who’s wife was of an immigration status
      that did not allow her to work, but was making hundreds of thousands of dollars being photographed nude in sexually explicit situations, yet rails about the those who cannot get a social security number, a bank account, or a drivers license and make an honest day’s living.
      He supports a man who rails against student debt forgiveness saying that if you borrow money, you should pay it back while ignoring the fact that this person he supports filed for bankruptcy 6 times, and stiffed creditors and working people for more than a billion dollars.

      Is it surprising that he thinks it’s fine that the officials at the highest levels of the Saudi government can order the gruesome murder of a dissident and pay the family off ?

      • These examples of the hypocrisy of the christian conservatives, who are anything but PRO life, is much appreciated. Thank you, Don.

      • Commenters should stick to using the comment privilege to present their OWN views and ditch the “X thinks this” OMG! innuendo-filled nonsense. Generally used to veer far from the actual subject.

        Akin to mean-girl gossip. It is very tiresome.

        • It’s George who decides the “should” and “should not” aspects of our comments. (Although I do wish there was a way to stop the trolls who offer nothing intelligent and degrade every conversation, even when they’re not trolling. I’ve read stupid opinions on varying, off-topic subjects in my life, but nothing worse than the petty and narcissistic trolls always contradicting themselves on here.)


          My view is that it’s important to point out the glaring hypocrisy of the Christian right conservatives and how this hypocrisy is excused or ignored by them when it serves their controlling, dictatorial, anti-“other” purposes.

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