Pádraig Harrington says ‘sportswashing does work’ as controversy over PGA Tour and Liv merger rumbles on

‘Golf gets bashed a lot in the media but the four Irish golfers approached did not go’

Who knew? Pádraig Harrington is nerdish about a Clash of Clans which, in talking to Joe Duffy on RTÉ radio, about the whole PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth Public Investment Fund (PIF) merger into its as-yet-unnamed new professional men’s golf entity, was a rather fitting titbit of information giving the ructions that have been going on in the sport for over a year since LIV’s arrival on the scene.

And Harrington — as ever — was open and upfront in admitting, “all the golfers [on the PGA Tour] were blindsided, nobody saw this coming … everybody was exceptionally surprised. It came from nowhere. It’s a huge U-turn by the PGA Tour and the likely reason is they were forced into it [for commercial reasons].”

Harrington, on a short break home in Dublin before resuming tournament duty at next week’s US Open in Los Angeles, also defended how Irish professional golfers had each taken moral stances in previously rebuking advances from LIV, the start-up tour also funded by the PIF.

As he put it, “golf gets bashed a lot in the media but the four Irish golfers [approached] did not go. We all said ‘no’. Rory [McIlroy] said no to 400 million [US dollars], Shane [Lowry] said no to life-changing money. Myself and Darren [Clarke], we didn’t go. Darren had a fantastic offer on the table to commentate. [Some of] my friends have gone and I’m not going to judge their morals in any shape or form.”


In a wide-ranging interview with Duffy on the phone-in radio programme that ranged from his dog Wilson to the influences of his mother Breda and his late father Paddy, Harrington also referenced his social media post on Twitter following the PGA Tour merger in which he noted Ireland’s own past social injustices, most pertinently regard to the mother and baby homes.

“The country I come from had for a long time accepted … a young person could be raped in her own home by a family member and she would be imprisoned, effectively institutionalised and the rapist would get away with it. Who knew about that? Authority knew about that, the doctor would have to know about it, the policeman would have to know about it, the policeman would have to tell the judge. Society knew about it and they let it happen,” said Harrington.

The point he made was that social change in Saudi Arabia will take time and, with a nod to how sports washing was not just in golf but also in football and Formula One, said: “Sportswashing does work. [Saudi Arabia’s] goal is to be the hub of the Middle East, they are trying to overtake Dubai and Abu Dhabi and be the centre of business and tourism in the Middle East.

“If I had a magic wand and I could go in and say, ‘hey, look, we want you to adhere to the norms of human rights, that we call consider to be completely normal’, I’d wave that wand. But forcing them to do it would make them backtrack, they have to do it on their own terms. We’d all love it to happen today but if somebody said in 25 years, like we look back on the mother and baby homes, if somebody said in 25 years, ‘look at Saudi Arabia, look what it was like and look at it now’. I don’t know if that is acceptable to people that it would take 25 years for women to get proper rights. We just can’t wave a magic wand now.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times