Greg Norman has risked further backlash to the controversial Saudi rebel golf circuit by saying “we’ve all made mistakes” in relation to the state-sponsored murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Australian Norman was at the Centurion Club in St Albans on Wednesday to promote the first $25m event in the $255million eight-tournament LIV Golf Series that kicks off at the venue in four weeks’ time.
Inevitably, Norman – who is chief executive of LIV Golf, the entity set up to run the Saudi bid to revolutionize the top of the professional game – was asked about the country’s human rights record, including the 2018 murder of Khashoggi, the 59-year-old -old journalist and US citizen.
US intelligence agencies concluded last year that Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince and deputy prime minister, had approved the execution of the Saudi dissident. MBS, as he is widely known, has never admitted direct involvement, but in one of a few tense exchanges at the Hertfordshire layout, Norman stated his belief that people should be given the chance to learn from their “mistakes.”
“From what I heard and what you guys reported,” Norman said. “Just take ownership of what it is. Take ownership no matter what it is. Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.”
Pushed later on whether he really believed that dismembering a journalist’s body with a saw was “just a mistake”, Norman responded: “I’m not going down this road guys. Let’s just stay focused on the golf. That’s all I’m going everything.”
Norman’s controversial comments are certain to intensify the spotlight on the Kingdom’s rebel circuit and the accusations of ‘sportswashing’.
On Tuesday, he claimed that he did not ‘answer to MBS’ despite the 36-year-old being in charge of the Public Investment Fund that is fully financing the LIV Series. Norman that he has ‘secured an extra $2billion in funding’ until 2025 from the PIF in an effort to create a 14-event global league by 2024. But he stressed ‘we are independent’ and reiterated that stance again on Wednesday.
“I haven’t had one personal connection with MBS, I’ve never even met the guy, he said. “But at the same time I do read that the Saudi Government has made their statements about it and they want to move forward. “
The press conference went on with Norman saying: “I’m not sure whether I even have any gay friends, to be honest with you,” when quizzed if any gay friends had bemoaned the Saudi discrimination against the LBGT community.
And when asked what he thought when he heard two months ago that 81 Saudi men had been executed on the same day, he said: “I got a lot of messages, but quite honestly I look forward, I don’t look back. I don’t look into the politics of things. I know the mission I have as CEO of LIV Golf and that’s how we can grow the game globally. I’m not going to get into the quagmire of whatever happens in someone else’s world. I heard about it and I just kept moving on.”
On Tuesday night, the PGA Tour refused to grant waivers to roughly 30 players who had applied to play at Centurion and Telegraph Sport has learned the DP World Tour, formerly, the European Tour, will soon announce likewise.
It means the likes of Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter must break Tour rules if they want to tee it up in the 54-holer from June 9-11 with the opportunity of collecting $4million if they finish first in the 48-man event – and being guaranteed $120,000 if they come dead last.
The PGA Tour warned that any players who compete will anyway be at risk of sanction, including a fine or a ban. Norman vowed to pay for the players’ ends and also revealed that his legal team have injunctions ready should the Tours or the majors issue any suspensions. LIV believes this will allow the rebels to keep competing in the game’s biggest tournaments as the case goes through the courts.
“We are going to back our players, we are going to be there for them, for whatever it is,’ Norman said. ‘We are ready to go (with the legal injunctions). We don’t want to but we are ready I’ve told the players, ‘it’s your choice’.
“But I’ve also told the players (who do play regardless) ‘we’ve got your back’. Simple. We will defend them, we will reimburse them and we will represent them.”