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12 May, 2022 10:56

Golf icon downplays Saudi journalist slaying

Greg Norman appeared to play down alleged human rights abuses and Jamal Khashoggi's killing
Golf icon downplays Saudi journalist slaying

Golf legend Greg Norman has denied that the new league he is fronting, backed to the tune of $2 billion by Saudi Arabia, is not trying to "sportswash" the Kingdom's alleged human rights abuses including the 2018 murder of a Washington Post journalist.

The two-time British Open winner is the CEO of the LIV Golf International, which is primarily funded by the Public Investment Fund (PIL) which has also taken ownership of Premier League football club Newcastle United in recent months.

In a media day in London on Wednesday to promote the LIV's inaugural event at the Centurion Golf Club near the UK capital next month, Norman seemed to downplay the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi to The Times and human rights abuses in the Kingdom, where 81 people were reportedly executed in March.

"Everybody has owned up to it, right?" Norman asked regarding Khashoggi, who was allegedly slain in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the orders of PIL Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

While Salman denied prior knowledge of the plot, he took responsibility for it happening on his "watch" prior to five officials being sentenced to death and another three to prison for 24 years in December 2019.

"It has been spoken about, from what I’ve read, going on what you guys reported. Take ownership, no matter what it is. Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward,” Norman added.

"This whole thing about Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi and human rights, talk about it, but also talk about the good the country is doing to change its culture. There’s not many countries that can stand up and be proud of that," Norman also said. "They can’t be proud of their past – there’s a lot of countries in this world that have a cross to bear too – but they are looking after the younger generation."

To Sky Sports, the 67-year-old Australian made similar comments when saying it was "reprehensible what happened with Khashoggi".

"Own up to it, talk about it," he demanded, before insisting: "I'm not going to get into politics."

"I don't know what the Saudi government does. I don't want to get into that. Every country has a cross to bear."

"They're not my bosses," Norman protested. "We're independent. I do not answer to Saudi Arabia. I do not answer to their government or MBS [Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud]."

"I answer to my board of directors, and MBS is not on that. Simple as that. So that narrative is untrue," he said, when pushed on accusations that he works directly for the Saudi regime.

Norman also claimed that Saudi Arabia is making a "cultural change from within" as they don't "want to have that stigma" of alleged human rights abuses "sitting over there".

"The generation of kids that I see today on the driving range, they don't want that stigma going on into generations and their kids. They want to change that culture and they are changing it.

"And you know how they're doing it? Golf," he underlined.

With the LIV Golf Invitational Series planning to become a 14-tournament super league within two years, Norman pointed out that the competition could run alongside the PGA tour, which has reportedly denied golfers a waiver to play in the event at the Centurion Club amid rumored fears that the LIV intends to destroy it.

"We're not a breakaway," Norman stated. "We're additive to the golf eco-system. When the players understand that, they get more confidence in the voice that they have, and in the choice that they have."

"Isn't competition a good thing? Isn't competition the best thing for business in sport?" Norman posed. "You don't have the best soccer team without competition."

"There hasn't been competition against the PGA Tour for 53 years, so a monopolist is going to sit back and go: 'I've got to protect what I've got'.

"What are they scared of? We're not demanding anything out of the players. They can play one, two, four events, they can play whatever they want to play. It's their choice.

"We are not trying to destroy the Tour. 100 per cent not. I will fight to my death on that one. I'm still a lifetime member of the PGA Tour," Norman concluded.

The LIV's first event at the Centurion Club runs from June 9-11 with prize money of $25 million on offer.