A PGA Tour merger with its Saudi-backed rival LIV Golf is 'a takeover'.
That's according to Kieran Cunningham, Chief Sports Writer with the Irish Daily Star, who was speaking after the two tours signed an agreement that would combine the PGA Tour and LIV Golf's commercial businesses and rights into a new, yet-to-be-named for-profit company.
The announcement comes after a year of unprecedented disruption in the men's professional game following the launch of the LIV Golf circuit.
The agreement includes the DP World Tour, also known as the European PGA Tour.
The rival circuit launched in 2022 and has lured a number of big-name players from the PGA Tour - including Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson and reigning PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka.
The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, and critics have accused it of being a vehicle for the country to attempt to improve its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record.
As part of the deal, the sides are dropping all lawsuits against each other.
It is unclear what form the LIV Golf League would take in 2024.
Mr Cunningham told The Hard Shoulder no one saw this coming.
"It's taken both the golf and the wider sporting world completely by surprise," he said.
"They've been at loggerheads for a year, since the first LIV golf event... in June of last year.
"So effectively it's only taken 12 months for LIV - which effectively is the Saudi powers that be - to take over golf.
"I know it's being painted as a merger, but I think this is a takeover".
'Washing Saudi's reputation'
Quoting a tweet from US Senator Chris Murphy, Mr Cunningham said this is "down to money."
"The Public Investment Fund in Saudi Arabia is worth an astonishing $620 billion.
"That's being used to wash Saudi's reputation through sport," he claimed.
So weird. PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis' human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport.
I guess maybe their concerns weren't really about human rights? https://t.co/SQ9HQuBsNT
— Chris Murphy 🟧 (@ChrisMurphyCT) June 6, 2023
Mr Cunningham said this is the latest move by Saudi Arabia in the sports field.
"They're making major moves in boxing; there's a lot of major fights being lined up in boxing over the next year," he said.
"They're becoming powerbrokers in football, to a large extent, with a lot of clubs coming under Saudi ownership including Newcastle United.
"This is the biggest move yet because it comes so quickly.
"A lot of sports will now look at this, and look at the money, and rather than see it as a warning they will look at it as an opportunity".
'Where will global sport be?'
Mr Cunningham said more questions need to be asked.
"It does raise serious questions for sport across the board, how much do they want to get in bed with Saudi?" he said.
"Just one example: a woman called Salma al-Shehab - she was sentenced to 34 years because of tweets and retweets [on] human rights issues - including tweets on women's rights to drive cars.
"This is the kind of country you're dealing with.
"People who defend Saudi's involvement in sport do point out that... Irish politicians deal with Saudi, a lot of Irish businesses do - but maybe that should be questioned more as well.
"When you look at the power they have with that Public Investment Fund, with $620 billion, in 10 years' time where will global sport be?" he added.
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Additional reporting: IRN