The PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf merger is expected to end the rift and multiple lawsuits. Finer points of the deal are yet to be fleshed out, and it will take a while before a unified calendar is out. Image Credit: Pexels

Once again Saudi Arabia figured prominently in many headlines across the Western world. Only this time it was not related to the output of oil or the market prices that were trending. No, this time it was a repeat of the same old and may I add despicable charge of sportswashing levelled against the Kingdom.

It immediately followed the announcement that to many in the sporting world must have come as a surprise when the long-simmering feud between the Saudi-backed LIV Golf whose emergence over the past year and a half has stamped its impact and the century-old professional golf association of America (PGA), the world’s pre-eminent professional golf league came to an amicable agreement that merged the two leagues together, thus putting to rest a war of words and distorted championships taking place during the calendar year. The merger would end all pending litigation.

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Following the conclusion of the agreement, Commissioner Jay Monahan stated that “through this transformational agreement and with PIF’s collaborative investment, the immeasurable strength of the PGA Tour’s history, legacy and pro-competitive model not only remains intact but is supercharged for the future.”

Almost immediately as well media pundits in the US and elsewhere set to work in attacking anything about Saudi Arabia. This is not the first time that vociferous voices were attacking the country for venturing into global sports and it would not be the last and so I was not in the least bit surprised.

Unfair criticism 

But I was indeed taken aback by a piece written by the former US NBA basketball player, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Kareem, a champion several times over in the National Basketball Association with 6 titles to his name and who until very recently held the all-time scoring record, chimed in on the PGA LIV merger.

Kareem whose journalistic skills seem to fall far short of his prowess on the basketball court spends most of his time on the article discussing sportswashing.

I was offended on several counts after reading his piece. It is a rehash of all that has been produced by writers and journalists with unkind bias against the country. There is nothing new in what he had to say that had not been written or said before.

And for a remarkable player on the court and a man who was among the few to stand up with the famed boxer Mohammed Ali when Ali refused to be drafted into a war with Vietnam, I had a great deal of respect for this man.

Kareem who was formerly Lew Alcindor, converted to Islam in 1968 and adopted his new name. He followed it with a visit to Makkah in 1973 to visit the holy sites.

He has been a steadfast Muslim over all these years and a respected one and has not been afraid to speak out on issues confronting America. Yet his overreach on this issue forced me to immediately reply to him in a Twitter message.

I wrote: ‘Your article on Saudi Arabia and golf fails to take into account that there are 33 million residents of the country who benefit by exposure to international sporting events and to deny them that under the guise of sportswashing would be a grave injustice.’

The Saudi Minister of Investment probably said it best when he stated that “Sport is a significant component of global economy, consumption, media, digital content, which is now in our hands and laptops and something that as individuals, as households, as corporates, it’s part of,” he said.

“It’s part of retaining our Saudi citizens, global residents who choose Saudi Arabia as their home, to stay in Saudi Arabia and to consume this product that is of high demand,” he added, “and also to bring global followers of sport to the kingdom for the various activities and sports that will be taking place here.”

Let us remain optimistic that Kareem Abdul Jabbar will grasp the message.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena