Where have you gone, Arthur Ashe?  LIV Tour golfers need you.

Where have you gone, Arthur Ashe? LIV Tour golfers need you.

Where have you gone, Arthur Ashe?  LIV Tour golfers need you.

Ah, the all-too-typical response. Imagine Ashe saying the same thing when he visits Schwartzel’s homeland at the height of his racial depravity. Cynics argue that no one has the high level, so there’s little point in mixing sports with politics and human rights – as Wimbledon, for example, did this year when it blocked Russian and Belarusian players because of their country’s war against Ukraine.

No one should accept that. Not when we’re talking about countries like Saudi Arabia, where “it’s the strategy of the state” to use sports to hide abuses of rights, said Adam Coogle, deputy director in the Middle East and North Africa Department. at Human Rights Watch.

“Sport washing”, as it has come to be called, has long been an unfortunate fact in life. That’s why the Nazis hosted the 1936 Olympics, and China hosted the Summer Games in 2008 and the Winter Games in 2022. Vladimir V. Putin used athletic success to make Russia appear a respectable member of the international community and a global power. Now we know the cost.

The Saudis are still new to these high-stakes mirages, but under Prince Mohammed’s de facto rule since 2016, they are making up for lost time with sports and entertainment. Hence hosting Formula 1 races and professional wrestling and football matches. Last year they bought the Premier League football club Newcastle United. Now they are turning to golf, a sport loved by corporate kingpins and the political class. In other words, the kind of people whose decisions directly affect the desert kingdom.

Meanwhile, repression remains a fact of everyday life in Saudi Arabia. Saudi citizens do not enjoy the right to free assembly and association. The legal system is not independent. A fair trial is a farce. “There is a total shutdown of free speech,” Coogle told me on the phone from Jordan last week. Saudis, he said, “must not express any criticism” of the nation’s leadership.

To criticize, Coogle emphasized, is to risk detention, torture or death.

“When the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to power, he pledged an embrace of social and economic reform,” Khashoggi wrote in 2017. “He spoke about making our country more open and tolerant.”