WASHINGTON – Members of Congress had plenty to say Tuesday the surprising merger between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed rebel league LIV Golf after months of tension between the two rival organizations.
LIV Golf is backed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, which is controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi leader has been accused of trying to cover up his government’s human rights abuses by investing in sports organizations around the world, a practice known as “sports washing”.
PGA Tour Chairman Jay Monahan and PGA Tour players previously expressed concern about LIV Golf, calling the newcomer an insult to the families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“So strange,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how human rights in Saudi Arabia should disqualify them from participating in a major American sport.”
“I guess maybe their concerns aren’t really about human rights?” added Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf, was also widely criticized for his comments downplaying the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Turkey.
The agreement will combine the commercial golf business and rights of the Public Investment Fund, which includes LIV Golf, with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to create a new “for-profit legal entity to ensure that all stakeholders benefit from a model that delivers maximum excitement and competition among the best players in the game,” according to a news release.
The public investment fund is “ready to invest billions” in the new company, according to CNBC.
“In the end, it’s always about the money” tweeted Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas). “Saudi Arabia just bought itself a world golf government.”
Progressive Rep. Ro Hanna (D-Calif.), meanwhile, told HuffPost that the merger must be reviewed by federal regulators such as the Federal Trade Commission. He said his concerns were not limited to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, but also monopoly power.
“A merger of this size and weight deserves a vote by the PGA Tour Players – another reason players’ unions matter. Golf is one of the only major professional sports leagues in the US without one,” Kana added Twitter.
Not every lawmaker was concerned.
Rep. James Clyburn (DS.C.), who met with the LIV CEO last year, called the merger “a good thing.”
And Congresswoman Nancy Mays (RS.C.), chair of the Congressional Golf Caucus, tentatively praised the deal, suggesting it would benefit the sport and her district, which boasts many golf courses.
“Obviously there’s money from Saudi Arabia involved … you know, I have some concerns about that. But look at my area — we have over 30 golf courses,” Mays told HuffPost.
Mace said it would be appropriate for government regulators to take a hard look at the merger.
“Any kind of big acquisition or merger certainly deserves careful consideration in any industry, just in general,” Mace said.