How much sportswashing does it take to get the bloodstains and oil smears out of a fortune the size of Saudi Arabia’s? Judging by the continued ball-related scouring of the kingdom’s relevant authorities, it must be an awful lot.
At this stage, you would fancy that even the deafeningly enthusiastic Barry Scott and his unwavering faith in the deep-cleaning power of Cillit Bang might think twice before donning the old Marigolds.
It’s going to take more than a 15-second soak in a Petri dish to get these pennies clean.Which brings us to the LIV Golf Invitational Series, the latest sportscrubbing venture from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
Beset by controversy since day one, the league has been positioned as a rival to the PGA Tour, got underway on the outskirts of London yesterday, with an initial field of 42 competitors.
Among the big names who have followed the scent of an incomprehensibly absurd payday with all the blissful ardour of a Disney character levitating towards a freshly-baked pumpkin pie, are former world number one Dustin Johnson, Ryder Cup legends Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, and perhaps most notably of all, Phil Mickelson.
The American, who has stated his intention to continue competing in PGA majors as well, courted controversy in February when he publicly espoused the virtues of a breakaway tournament, while simultaneously acknowledging that Saudi Arabia’s well-documented human rights violations were “scary”.
Not quite “scary” enough to stop him from taking their money, mind you.
Perhaps he should ditch the Mickelson and change his surname to “My Wallet While I Conveniently Look The Other Way”.
Since then, anticipation for Thursday’s inaugural tee off has been punctuated by prickly debates over the ethical implications of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in sporting finance, bristling press conferences in which high-profile golfers uncomfortably try to justify their decision to abandon certain principles in the name of money, and repeated reminders of the worst atrocities ascribed to the Middle Eastern kingdom’s regime.
“LIV, Laugh, Love”, this ain’t.
The thing is though, we’ve been here before - and recently, too.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund who have just helped Mickelson to repave his driveway are the same ones who own a majority stake in Newcastle United, while this March saw the sophomore edition of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix take place in Jeddah.
Looking further afield, Manchester City’s Emirati owners have just signed off on a nauseatingly lavish deal to lure Ivan Drago tribute act Erling Haaland to the Etihad, and we all face the moral gloom of a World Cup built on an unforgivable foundation of worker fatalities in a country where homosexuality is still illegal this winter.
But the sad reality is, anger fades. People have a thousand looming concerns that needle away at their day to day lives, and inevitability, the energy required to sustain any kind of meaningful vexation withers and wilts.
It’s a phenomenon I like to refer to as “The Ian Beale Theorem”.
Here we have a fictional character who has been married six times to five different women, has been engaged twice more besides, who helped to cover up the fact that his own son murdered his teenage daughter, who had a mental breakdown and ended up homeless for months after discovering that his half-brother had killed his neighbour, and who got shot after finding out that his ex-wife was embroiled in an affair with his other half-brother.
If you knew Ian Beale in real life, his very being would melt your brain. But because you only see him for half an hour at a time, four times a week, or however often Eastenders is on, his hellish existence is diluted to such an extent by everything going on in your own life that the finer details become dulled into a kind of normalisation that is passively acceptable.
Sportswashing relies on something similar because the people who enact it know that any initial uproar they generate will eventually be hushed into a negligible whimper, and forgotten to a point of relative palatability.But we shouldn’t allow that to happen.
As consumers and spectators, we have the power and the duty to keep conversations alive, even as they are dragged discreetly out of the topical news agenda.
And in a sport obsessed with birdies, the LIV has willingly hung a gilded albatross around its neck in the name of greed and inorganic favour. For the sake of accountability, let’s make sure it continues to carry that burden.