“Lee Westwood showed ignorance over LIV Golf Series”


Lee Westwood’s plans to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series drew plenty of ire, with the former World No.1 accused of ignorance and greed.

Anthony Harwood, former Daily Mail Foreign Editor who now writes for Gulf Times, dissects the interview and suggests Westwood would do better to follow in the footsteps of fellow Englishman and Ryder Cup star Justin Rose.

RELATED: Justin Rose’s academy to attract millions of new golfers

It wasn’t quite the car crash interview that Phil Mickleson had when he questioned Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and labelled them“scary motherf******”.

Phil Mickelson hasn't played on the PGA Tour since the fallout around his Saudi Arabia comments.

At the time the six-time Major winner, who it’s claimed has run up £32m in gambling debts, was a leading campaigner to get golfers to join the desert kingdom’s lucrative breakaway league.

But while Mickelson didn’t expect his remarks to be published, Lee Westwood knew full well that his would be aired because they were made to a TV camera. Which makes the level of ignorance he displayed even more staggering.

So let’s take apart the full 2.36 mins Britain’s former World Number 1 spent talking to Sky Sports because it epitomises the sort of muddled thinking sportsmen can come out.

For one, you would expect a very rich sports star seeking to become even wealthier by getting into bed with the Saudis to know what the term ‘sports washing’ means, at the very least that it’s a ‘bad thing’.

For those who do not know, sportswashing was coined by Amnesty International to describe countries with toxic human rights reputations who use the glamour of sport to distract from the bad publicity they get for torturing and killing people.

RELATED: Westwood on plans to play in LIV Golf Series

Saudi Arabia needs to sports wash more than any other country due to its history of jailing women’s rights protestors, executing pro-democracy campaigners, murdering dissident journalists and carrying out bombing campaigns in Yemen that maim and kill people.

And yet Westwood shows his ignorance by admitting he’s engaged in sports washing.

Lee Westwood discusses his plans to play in the LIV Golf Series.

“Saudi Arabia know they’ve got issues. I think they’re trying to improve. They’re trying to do it through sport, which a lot of countries do,” he said.

You don’t improve a country through sport, you do so when you stop killing people. You use sport to distract people from the killings because, by the very word ‘sports washing’, it ‘cleanses’ a country of its bad reputation.

In March, Saudi Arabia put to death 81 people in a single day. Is that the mark of a country that’s trying to improve?

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Westwood then talks about the sporting revolution that Saudi Arabia is trying to bring about.

“I think they’re trying to do it a lot quicker than some countries and that worries people, scares people because they don’t like change, do they? They like continuity and things to stay the same”.

 They’re doing it a lot quicker than other countries because they’ve got a lot more prize money to offer, which multi-millionaires like him are happy to grab, even if it means destroying the existing set-ups upon which he built his career and fortune.

Westwood is now 49-years-old – and World Number 58 –  the sort of golfer coming to the end of his career which the Saudi Project is most likely to attract. But for it to succeed it needs to attract the world’s best in a move that would spell the end of the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, the Ryder Cup and possibly the majors.

Mainly due to the opposition of top golfers like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, the breakaway league has been postponed, rather than cancelled altogether.

Instead, the Saudis, led by former British Open champion Greg Norman, are having to make do with hosting individual tournaments which run alongside the traditional tours, such as the one in St Albans next month which Westwood wants to play in.

To enter he has to get permission, but what he doesn’t know is what happens if he doesn’t get it and still plays. Will he get a lifetime ban from the PGA?

Lee Westwood missed the cut at the British Masters.

Westwood goes on: “It’s an opportunity to play in a big tournament against some of the best players in the world, in England. I love playing in England in front of home fans so anytime there’s an opportunity like that I feel I should take it.”

But you were playing in England last week, in front of home fans, in the British Masters at the Belfry (although you didn’t make the cut). So what’s the difference? Could it be the prize fund at the Belfry is just £1.8m compared with the £20m up for grabs at the Saudi one?

RELATED: “Events in Saudi Arabia are anything but ‘cool'”

Asked if he could lose his chance of being Ryder Cup captain he seeks to blame the golfing authorities because that decision would be “in their court”. Ignoring the fact that upsetting the apple cart by joining the Saudis in the first place would have been his.

Instead, he falls back on that famous get-out that people like him use when they know they’ve been found out.  “I’m of a belief that sport and politics shouldn’t mix”. How very convenient.

Lee Westwood should take a leaf out of Justin Rose’s book, another English golfer, now 41, an Olympic gold medallist who won the US Open in 2013.

Justin Rose has launched a golf academy that aims to attract five million new players to the game.

Instead of chasing the Saudi money, he has just launched a golf academy that aims to get five million people into the sport for the first time, irrespective of age, gender, social background, or ability.

Rose says he does not want “to just play golf for money.” Unlike some.

RELATED: Everything you need to know about the LIV Golf Series


Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail

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