RIYADH: The controversial LIV Golf and PGA Tour merger should be given a chance by the US Congress as it will broaden the appeal of the game globally, a US-Iranian expert told Arab News.
“I really, really feel that LIV Golf and the support of (the Public Investment Fund) is going to broaden the appeal of golf throughout the US and in Europe,” said Rob Sobhani, author and adjunct professor at Georgetown University specializing in US Policy in the Middle East.
He added that such a move would create an impact on urban areas, saying that there is a lot of enthusiasm among young people who want to be the next sporting superstar. “This is going to allow for that child to dream and LIV Golf will make that dream come true for that person who wants to be the next Tiger Woods.”
LIV Golf is financed by the PIF, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.
The US Congress voiced its opposition to the merger, citing several reasons, including alleged human rights violations and the perceived threat that the Saudi-backed entity might take over the game.
Sobhani stressed that Congress is “wrong (in) their attitude towards Saudi PIF, wrong towards an understanding of the impact that Saudi PIF is having on the lives of hundreds of people around the world that have been the beneficiary of PIF’s investment.”
He believes it is crucial for the PIF to highlight the positive contributions, job opportunities, and overall impact it has generated for a wider audience, including members of Congress, which, he said, needs to gain a better understanding of the comprehensive “renaissance” taking place in Saudi Arabia, economically, culturally, and politically.
Sobhani added that Congress’s current perception of Saudi Arabia appears rooted in the past, perhaps 20 or even 30 years ago. “They need to come. They need to see with their own eyes the dynamism, the reform, the renaissance that we are witnessing today in Saudi Arabia.”
The author stressed that the strategy of the PIF aims to “democratize wealth creation” by investing in a wide range of American businesses, including small, medium-sized, and large enterprises, in order to support their innovation and expansion efforts.
“In the US, many companies are always looking for that first capital to be able to maybe buy a piece of machinery ... Maybe there is a young lady at the University of Ohio who is doing research on cancer, but she needs a machine to do more tests.
That machine may cost $250,000, right; PIF investment in her to buy the machine allows her to do more research and maybe solve one piece of the puzzle for cancer. That’s the impact the PIF can have,” he explained.
He added that those within the US Congress, as well as players who hold negative views towards the PIF, may not fully comprehend the positive impact created by the fund’s investments, which expand the reach of golf to a wider audience, resulting in increased customer engagement.
Touching on the benefits the merger is going to offer players, Sobhani said that, previously, a player who came 300th had to wait outside tournaments for an opportunity, while the involvement of the PIF will provide them with a steady income, which in turn offers them peace of mind, which will improve performances, raising overall standards.
“Golf, at its core, is about providing a safety net for the hundreds of golf players in the US who, before the investment by LIV Golf, were at the mercy of trying to win a tournament. But if they didn’t win the tournament, then they had no means to live,” said the professor.
“With LIV Golf, there is a safety net that is being provided for the players, and that’s the fundamental distinction between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf.”
He stressed that golf is a universally enjoyed sport, transcending borders, whether in the US, Saudi Arabia, or India, and the example set by LIV Golf with its investments and the anticipated success in the US is likely to resonate globally, leaving a significant international mark on the game.
Sobhani said that more tournaments will be held in the Middle East and Gulf Cooperation Council countries, adding that PIF chief Yasir Al-Rumayyan being a golf fanatic is “good news”for the sport.
He also touched on the ambitious Vision 2030 plan, saying that the PIF’s investment in sports will have a major impact, not only on golf and football but sports throughout, which will make fans “more engaged and happy.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vision to invest in sports is already paying off, he said, as evidenced by the example of Newcastle United, which he believes will be replicated elsewhere.
Next year, the US will hold presidential elections, and regardless of whether it is Joe Biden, Donald Trump, or an as-yet-unknown candidate who wins, Sobhani stressed the importance for the next US administration recognizing the significance of Saudi Arabia’s new initiatives for the world economy.