Amnesty International has voiced deep concern after the Ladies European Tour announced it will stage two events in Saudi Arabia in November. The LET insisted that it was a “landmark moment for women’s sport in the kingdom” when confirming the tournaments on Monday.
The Saudi Ladies International and Saudi Ladies Team International will deliver a combined $1.5m in prize money and mark the first professional tournaments for women in the country. They are, however, highly controversial given Saudi’s high-profile human rights violations.
“With leading Saudi women’s rights activists currently languishing behind bars, there’s an unmistakable irony to the spectacle of Saudi Arabia throwing open its heavily-watered greens to the world’s leading women golfers like this,” Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, told the Guardian.
“Under the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia has embarked on a major sportswashing drive – attempting to use the glamour and prestige of big-money sporting events as a PR tool to distract from its abysmal human rights record.”
Saudi Arabia has paid huge appearance fees to attract high-profile golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka to a men’s professional tournament on the European Tour’s schedule. Saudi Arabia is also a key financial player in Premier Golf League’s ongoing bid to form a breakaway male tour.
“It’s almost exactly two years since the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” added Allen. “It’s clear the Saudi authorities would prefer that golf handicaps are discussed this week, not their whitewash over Khashoggi’s killing.
“Every golfer considering whether to compete in Saudi Arabia ought to take a proper look at the human rights situation in the country and be prepared to speak out.
“We’d urge any golfer who makes the trip to Saudi Arabia in November to use her profile to help highlight human rights issues in the country, not least with an expression of solidarity with jailed women’s human rights defenders like Loujain al-Hathloul or Nassima al-Sada.”
Alexandra Armas, the chief executive of the LET, said: “We are always looking to grow the game in new markets and add to our schedule and we are confident that the Saudi Ladies International and the Saudi Ladies Team International will be a fantastic experience for our players.”
The $1m prize fund for the individual event will be the third biggest on the LET in 2020, behind only the Women’s Open and Ladies Scottish Open. With playing opportunities severely curtailed by Covid-19, it remains to be seen how many women travel to Saudi Arabia or object on points of principle.