NGOs pressure LET, players and sponsors to shun Saudi tournaments
By Jonathan Rest
A group of non-governmental organisations have written to the Ladies European Tour, its players and sponsors urging them to boycott next month's LET week of golf in Saudi Arabia and denounce human rights violations against women in the country.
Saudi Arabia is preparing to host its first professional tournaments for women in November, with the Saudi Ladies International to be held from 12 to 15 November, followed by the Saudi Ladies Team International from 17 to 19 November.
The $1.5 million prize pot for the two events will be coming from the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salmam.
In the letter, sent out yesterday, the NGOs wrote: "Domestic and international viewers from 55 countries worldwide will watch female players compete for a hefty cash prize, while women’s rights defenders in the Kingdom languish in prison, without access to legitimate legal redress...
"Saudi PIF has invested billions into campaigns to whitewash their human rights abuses, including downplaying the abhorrent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. While we acknowledge that such tournaments represent an important milestone in women’s golf, we are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia is using this sports event as a public relations tool to sportswash its appalling human rights record, including the discrimination against women and the crackdown on women’s rights defenders."
The LET declined to comment on the letter when contacted by Sportcal.
The letter goes on to detail a number human rights violations against Saudi women.
It continued: "The only way to achieve true progress, in the eyes of the world, is to implement real reforms on women’s rights, and immediately release the activists who have been arrested for defending these rights. While we hope that Saudi Arabia can indeed develop its interaction with other countries around the world through hosting sports and other events in the Kingdom, we cannot ignore the country’s attempt to conceal its continued detention of women’s rights activists and discrimination against women by hosting a women’s sports tournament.
"In light of the above, the signatories call on Ladies European Tour organisers and players, to urge the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against Saudi women’s rights activists and immediately and unconditionally release them."
The LET has already come in for criticism for staging two tournaments in Saudi Arabia, with Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, telling the UK’s Guardian newspaper last month: “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.
"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 increasingly looked to sport to boost its image on the international stage, and has already staged the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers on the men’s European Tour in 2019 and 2020.The Saudi Ladies International will have the third highest prize fund of any LET event in a season disrupted by Covid-19, behind only the British and Scottish Opens, while the team event will feature amateur players alongside the professionals.