Red flags went up for some golf fans back in June when the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour announced a merger with the PGA. However, this is hardly the first time critics have accused the Kingdom of using sports as a means of distracting or covering up alleged human rights abuses. This behavior is known as “sportswashing”.
The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund directly controlled by the House of Saud, has poured millions of dollars into international sports organizations since its establishment in 1971. This strategy has only ramped up in recent years, seeing the PIF sponsor everything from FIFA to UFC to, of course, the PGA.
Recently, London-based human rights watchdog, Grant Liberty, released a report detailing Saudi sportswashing, updated for 2023. I highly suggest reading through it. For better or worse, our current political climate has heightened scrutiny towards who we choose to associate with.
I’ll suggest it’s worth considering in cases where real human rights abuses are involved. It’s my opinion that event planners and destinations should be aware of what groups are willing to partner with totalitarian regimes, even if only to insulate themselves from potential criticism.
Let us know what you think in the comments. Should you and your organization be wary of governments who try to “sportswash” their image?