Greg Norman arrived in London on Tuesday insisting that he “does not answer” to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and declaring that the Kingdom should “own up” to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and “talk about it”.
However, the Australian also revealed that the Saudi Public Investment Fund has pledged $ 2 billion in “extra funding” over the next three years to establish a breakaway global league.
While the increase in finances will cause added alarm in the professional male game’s corridors of power – with the first $ 25 million of the $ 255 million eight-event series taking place next month in St Albans – the claim that LIV Golf Investments is “independent” is bound to cause many eyeballs to roll.
When Newcastle United were taken over last last year the Premier League confirmed it had received “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control” the club. Of course, Norman and LIV Golf are not obliged to pass and owner’s test, but still the two-time major winner was emphatic in his statements.
“They’re not my bosses,” Norman, 67, told Sky Sports. “We [LIV Golf] are independent. I do not answer to Saudi Arabia. I can categorically tell you, that’s not the case. I don’t answer to MBS. ”
When asked if he understands why there are concerns about the funding emerging from “a brutal dictatorship?” Norman replied: “One hundred per cent – that was reprehensible what happened to Khashoggi [the journalist and US citizen who was murdered and chopped up] right? Own up to it, talk about it. But we go back to Saudi Arabia and they’re making a cultural change. They don’t want to have that stigma, ”
Technically, Norman can argue this case for autonomy – just as Newcastle have – but it does not begin to bear close investigation. LIV Golf Investments was set up by Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who is the chairman of Golf Saudi and of Newcastle United.
Al Rumayyan is also the governor of the PIF, having been appointed by MBS to oversee the sovereign wealth fund with estimated assets of $ 620 billion. MBS is thus ultimately in control of PIF and it is lucircrous to believe he has no say over LIV Golf and the bid to revolutionize the top of the professional male game.
Since being named as LIV’s chief executive last November, Norman has consistently dismissed the charges of “sportswashing” and again is questioning why golf is coming under scrutiny when the Saudis are already involved in football, boxing and F1, not to mention in big business.
“There’s a lot of stuff interlinked today,” he said. “The US government invests with Saudi Arabia, so too does the UK government. Everything is interlinked. So it’s stepping back and understanding the fact that there’s a tranche of money investing in things like Disney and Uber that consumers all around the world are benefiting from. Do they sit back and go, ‘oh, that’s Saudi money. I’m not gonna get an Uber? ‘
Norman is clearly attempting to distance the series from his accusations of laundering the Kingdom’s reputation.
“This is Greg talking – I’m not talking on behalf of the [Saudi] government or anybody, ”he said. “I’m talking on behalf of my true belief, my passion. And when was the last time somebody wanted to invest $ 2 billion into the golf game? ”
In fact, it already adds up to even more than that. With more than 200 employers and having already committed to $ 300 million over 10 years to the Asian Tour, the outlay so far is estimated at north of $ 700 million and that figure will only rise as they dangle signing-up fees ranging from $ 20 million to $ 100 million to lure big names.
The winner at the Centurion Club will collect $ 4 million, with last place in the 48-man field receiving $ 120,000.
“We’ve just got approval to launch our schedule into 2023, 24 and 25, with $ 2 billion to back that up so we have additional funds in place,” Norman told the BBC. “And we’re looking way beyond that too. We are looking at decades. The whole notion is to change the look and whole presentation of the way the game has been played over the last 53 years. ”
LIV announced on Tuesday night that it plans 10 events in 2023 followed by “a full season” of 14 events in 2024 and 2025. The tournament at the Centurion Club in four weeks time are, like the other seven events, being classed by Norman as “Baiter tournaments”, aiming to lure in the big names.
However, Norman claimed there will be “six members of the world’s top 50, 19 of the top 100 and 36 of the top 150” in Hertfordshire. “I’m proud of that,” he said. “Because there was a lot of noise saying that none of the players would show up. Pretty impressive, We are only a start-up. ” An independent one at that.