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Malachy Clerkin: Saudi human rights violations less and less of an issue for pro golf as civil war hots up

Money far outweighs morals in the ongoing fight between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour for the future of the game

In serious times you take your fun where you find it. The news this week that noted American golfer Patrick Reed is suing Brandel Chamblee of The Golf Channel for a cool 750 million bucks came as a spritz of joy into the grim and po-faced world of anyone who has been following the LIV golf saga. Not the suit itself, obviously – most of us will roll our eyes and hope it gets the shortest shrift possible from the beaks.

No, the fun to be had was in reading through the detail set out by Reed’s lawyer, one Larry Klayman, in the course of his complaint. There was his reference to Tiger Wood. There was his childish taunt that Chamblee’s professional career “fell far short of ever rising to the accomplished level of Mr Reed”. There was a long paragraph detailing some of the things that have been shouted at Reed from outside the ropes, on which you could do worse than passing a half hour’s googling (and giggling).

Despite the numbers involved the best part is just how small-time and playground it all feels. Deliciously tawdry, hilariously low-rent and, for the nit-pickers among us, a grammatical apocalypse. A document that Klayman must have known was certain to be read by a global audience of millions is filled with enough typos and misused apostrophes to give any half-decent sub-editor an aneurysm.

Klayman himself seems quite the card. A long-time right-wing activist, he gained notoriety over the years for being involved with suing the Clintons and Obama, and a string of other luminaries up to and including Fidel Castro, Michael Bloomberg and his own mother.

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Nonetheless, if you have spent more of your summer than you care to admit pulling on the various threads of the LIV farrago, Reed’s intervention is actually a welcome development. The suit itself may feel like a bit of idle nonsense and the woolly language used by Klayman probably makes it hard to take it too seriously. But even if it goes nowhere, it does at least bring the conversation back to the original sin of the whole LIV enterprise – the Saudi regime.

Whole sections of the complaint are taken up quoting at length what Chamblee said on The Golf Channel and elsewhere about the Saudis, about Mohammad bin Salman, about sportswashing and bonesaws and blood money and all the rest of it. The crux of Klayman’s argument is that Reed is just a sportsman moving to a different league and that he is being defamed by Chamblee bringing all this other stuff into it. You’d imagine he’ll have his work cut out given that defamation only works if something Chamblee said is provably false.

But beyond the nuts and bolts of a lawsuit between millionaires in Texas, the Reed suit inadvertently provides a timely commentary on where golf finds itself now. The highest echelons of the sport are entirely transfixed by what the PGA Tour can do to stave off the LIV organisation and stop the bleed of players towards it. The fight for the future of pro golf is all anyone cares about or talks about, and the conversation is increasingly framed only in terms of rival sports leagues facing each other down.

The Saudi involvement is obviously germane to it all but there has been a noticeable shift in how they are portrayed over the summer. The outrage and fuss that surrounded them at the start has largely fizzled out. It’s seen as baked in to the whole endeavour now. They are still seen as the Death Star in the whole drama but mostly because they represent an unmatchable war chest of cash on the other side of the fight. There’s virtually no mention of human rights anymore.

It’s only 10 weeks since Graeme McDowell squirmed on the press tent podium in London at the first LIV event and car-crashed his way through his justifications for joining the Saudi-backed enterprise. But time moves on. The bould GMac could turn up at the next LIV event in Boston in a fortnight wearing a T-shirt saying “I Love The Saudis, Me” and he’d barely get a question about it.

Golf has basically moved on. Understandably so, in some respects. There’s only so many times you can be stonewalled by the LIV lads before it becomes pointless. They couldn’t give less of a hoot about where the money comes from or what their paymasters do to the people who disagree with them. That situation isn’t going to change so what’s to be gained by continually bringing it up?

Well, last week a Saudi court jailed Salma al-Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two, for 34 years for her social media activity. She was a PhD student at Leeds University in 2020 and 2021, during which time she tweeted in support of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including the high-profile case of Loujain al-Hathloul, who spent three years in prison for leading a campaign to allow women to drive.

Time and again the Saudi regime tells the world that it will brook no dissent, that it places no value on free speech or democracy or women’s rights or any of the raft of other things we all take for granted. The LIV Golf people will carry on regardless. And it’s not a wild leap to imagine that by the time this all washes out and peace falls on the golfing world, the rest of golf will have held its nose and done the same.

People have short memories, after all. Here’s a tweet from February 15th, all of six months ago. “Brandon [sic] Chamblee of Golf Channel and Others Have It Right: Don’t Sell Your Soul to the Murderous Saudi Regime Which Gave Us September 11! There Is No Justification to Get Into Bed With the Saudis Other Than Pure Greed!”

The author was Larry Klayman, attorney-at-law.