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The shark is taking a stand.
Two-time major championship winner Greg Norman is defending his Saudi-financed invitational golf series, which he hopes to build into a full super league by 2024.
The Australian, 67, is the CEO of LIV Golf Investments, which will hold an inaugural invitational tournament worth a record $25 million, at the Centurion Club in the United Kingdom next month.
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During an interview with Sky Sports, Norman defended the source of his $2 billion in financial backing which comes from the Saudi’s Public Investment Fund.
“They’re not my bosses. We’re independent. I do not answer to Saudi Arabia. I do not answer to MBS [Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud],” he said. “I answer to my board of directors, and MBS is not on that. Simple as that. So that narrative is untrue.”
Norman said that he understood people’s concerns about the source of the money funding the tour, considering the history of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. But he argued the country was attempting to make a “cultural change from within.”
“It’s reprehensible what happened with [Jamal] Khashoggi. Own up to it, talk about it,” he said. “But you go back to Saudi Arabia, they’re making a cultural change from within to change that. They don’t want to have that stigma sitting over there.”
“The generation of kids today that I see on the driving range, they don’t want that stigma going into that next generation and their kids. They want to change that culture, and they are changing that culture,” he added. “And you know how they are doing it? Golf.”
But when pressed on recent abuses by the country, Norman admitted he didn’t want to get into politics and said he doesn’t know what the Saudi government does politically. He also suggested that “every country has a cross to bear.”
The new golf series runs from June 9-11 at the golf club near St Albans. Player names are being withheld until releases become official, but Norman said 36 of the top 150 players will be playing. Golfers who have already sought permission to play at the event include six-time major winner Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood.
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“Pretty impressive because there’s been a lot of white noise saying that the players wouldn’t even show up,” Norman said. “I’ve been very proud of the fact that players have been making their choices as independent contractors, to make a decision to go and play golf where they want to go and play golf.”
Mickelson recently received backlash after he criticized the PGA Tour and backed the proposed golf league. Mickelson described the Saudis as “scary” but noted he could look past their history of human rights abuses if it meant a chance to change the PGA Tour.
Norman talked about the criticism that Mickelson has received, saying he hates “somebody being a piñata on somebody else’s opinion.”
“I don’t know how that whole thing played out and why … but I can tell you Phil’s legacy … is his legacy. He made a mistake,” Norman said.
Norman also suggested his league could run alongside the PGA Tour.
“We’re not a breakaway,” he said. “We’re additive to the golf ecosystem.”
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“Isn’t competition a good thing? Isn’t competition the best thing for business in sport? 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,” Norman added, via Sky Sports. “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.”