WASHINGTON — Members of Congress had plenty to say Tuesday about the surprising merger between the PGA Tour and Saudi-backed insurgent 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 violations by investing in sports organizations around the world, a practice known as “sportswashing.”
PGA Tour Chair Jay Monahan and players on the PGA Tour had previously expressed concerns about LIV Golf, calling the upstart an affront to families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“So weird,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis’ human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport.”
“I guess maybe their concerns weren’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 golf-related commercial businesses 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 entity to ensure that all stakeholders benefit from a model that delivers maximum excitement and competition among the game’s best players,” according to a news release.
Public Investment Fund is “prepared to invest billions” into the new entity, according to CNBC.
“In the end, it’s always about the money,” tweeted Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas). “Saudi Arabia just bought themselves a one-world golf government.”
Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), meanwhile, told HuffPost the merger should be scrutinized by federal regulators like the Federal Trade Commission. He said his concerns were not limited to human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia, but also monopoly power.
“A merger of this size & weight deserved a vote from the PGA Tour Players ― another reason why player unions matter. Golf is one of the only major professional sports leagues in the US without one,” Khanna added on Twitter.
Not every lawmaker was concerned.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), one of several lawmakers who met with the LIV CEO during a charm offensive last year, called the merger “a good thing.”
And Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.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 Saudi money being involved ... you know, I’d have some concerns over that. But look at my district — we’ve got over 30 golf courses,” Mace told HuffPost.
Mace said it would be appropriate for government regulators to take a hard look at the merger.
“Any type of large acquisition or merger certainly deserves scrutiny in any industry, just in general,” Mace said.