Sport Resolutions UK, the independent body that adjudicates sporting disputes, has confirmed that golf’s DP World Tour won an arbitration case against players who defected to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit.
The decision, announced today (April 6), upholds the DP World Tour's decision to sanction players who competed in the tournaments without a release last year.
Several high-profile players, including Ian Poulter, Justin Harding, and Adrian Otaegui, had contested two-week suspensions and fines of £100,000 ($120,000) for competing in the inaugural breakaway LIV Invitational Series last year without a release from the DP World Tour.
The players had requested “conflicting event” releases from the tour to play in the LIV event at Centurion Club last June but the requests were denied.
The dispute centered around DP World Tour arguing that the players were in breach of membership regulations by playing in the LIV events without a release, while the players insisted they were entitled to compete on different circuits.
The sanctions also included a suspension from the Scottish Open, but the players were permitted to play in the tournament pending the outcome of an appeal that was heard over five days in February.
The appeal ruling has allowed LIV players to continue competing on the DP World Tour without penalty.
However, Sport Resolutions UK has now ruled in DP World Tour’s favor, as had been otherwise revealed yesterday (April 5).
A three-person panel heard arguments from the tour and from lawyers representing the LIV Golf players. It found that DP Worle Tour chief executive Keith Pelley “acted entirely reasonably in refusing releases” and the regulations “cannot be said to go beyond what is necessary and proportionate to the [DP World Tour’s] continued operation as a professional golf tour.”
The panel confirmed DP World Tour’s regulations are lawful and enforceable, as members “committed serious breaches of the code of behavior of the DP World Tour regulations by playing in [LIV Golf events] despite their release request having been refused.”
The legal action was initiated by the golfers – 16 in total – who wanted their sanctions for competing in the new LIV series fully overturned.
However, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, and Otaegui withdrew from the case ahead of the arbitration hearing by Sport Resolutions UK.
The players will now have 30 days to pay their fines. LIV Golf, which is backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, reportedly vowed to reimburse players for fines they receive and cover the legal costs of challenging suspensions.
The ruling coincides with the start of The Masters and could force players who have played in LIV events to give up their DP World Tour membership and prevent them from participating in the Ryder Cup.
In a statement on the decision, Pelley said: “We welcome today's decision by Sport Resolutions which upholds our regulations and our ability to administer them.
"We are delighted that the panel recognized we have a responsibility to our full membership to do this and also determined that the process we followed was fair and proportionate.
"In deciding the level of these sanctions last June, we were simply administering the regulations which were created by our members and which each of them signed up to.
"It is, of course, regrettable that resources, both financial and staffing, which could have been otherwise deployed across our organization, have been impacted by this lengthy arbitration process.
"However, with the clarity provided by today's decision, we look forward to continuing to focus on our 2023 global schedule, whilst also continuing to plan for 2024 with the valued support of our many partners and stakeholders.
"We will now carefully consider the details of today's decision with our board, our tournament committee, and our legal advisors and take the appropriate action in due course."
LIV has recruited several high-profile names from both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour including Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Phil Mickelson.
The PGA Tour also suspended players that have made the switch. A separate antitrust case between the PGA Tour and LIV is due to be heard in the US in 2024.