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Antiwar Activists Decry Saudi Arabia’s “Sportswashing” Golf Tournament

Protestors in Massachusetts drew attention to the kingdom’s war crimes in Yemen and domestic human rights abuses.

Demonstrators near the LIV Golf Tournament on September 2, 2022, in Bolton, MA.

Peace activists on Friday challenged what they called Saudi Arabia’s “sportswashing” of war crimes in Yemen and domestic human rights abuses by protesting outside — and over — a Massachusetts golf tournament funded by the repressive kingdom.

Members of Massachusetts Peace Action and supporters rallied at the Bolton Fair Grounds in Lancaster, site of the shuttle bus to the LIV Golf tournament at The International golf club in Bolton. The professional golf tour is financed by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

Demonstrators held signs with messages including “Saudi Money is Blood Money” and “Saudi Arabia Kills Journalists and Kids in Yemen” while an airplane circled over the event trailing a banner reading “Bolton Rejects Saudi Blood Money.”

“The Saudi bombing and blockade of Yemen has brought devastation to the people of that country,” Paul Shannon, who chairs Massachusetts Peace Action’s Middle East Working Group, said in a statement.

“That destruction has been enabled by our country’s support for the Saudi invasion and by bombs, planes, and missiles sold to the Saudis by U.S. military contractors like Lockheed, Boeing, and Raytheon,” he added.

Protester Alice Rennie of Bolton told WCVB: “I’m outraged that it’s my town that’s hosting a golf tournament that’s funded by the terrorists and murderous regime in Saudi Arabia.”

Another demonstrator, Paul Garver, asserted that “golf should not be used to promote a government like Saudi Arabia that is doing these things in the world to people.”

“We do not condone collaboration with a murderous dictator like the crown prince,” he added.

In addition to peace activists, relatives of people killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States — which were possibly backed by some Saudi officials — have called out LIV golfers, as well as former President Donald Trump for hosting a LIV event at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

While campaigning in 2016, Trump blamed Saudi Arabia for 9/11. However, once elected, he behaved like every U.S. president by maintaining friendly relations with the oil-rich kingdom’s rulers and selling them hundreds of millions of dollars in arms for use in the U.S.-backed coalition war in Yemen, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people while displacing, starving, and sickening millions more.

At Friday’s protest, Massachusetts Peace Action also handed out pamphlets thanking the professional golfers who have eschewed the tournament “so as not to be associated with an event created with millions of dollars from one of the most repressive regimes on the face of the Earth.”

One of those players, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, has been an outspoken critic of LIV Golf. Speaking to reporters in June, McIlroy accused younger players who join the tournament of “taking the easy way out.”

Citing “morality,” McIlroy joined Tiger Woods in turning down what is believed to have been $2.5 million payments to play in a 2019 tour in Saudi Arabia.

“You could say that about so many countries, not just Saudi Arabia,” said McIlroy, then the world’s second-ranked golfer, “but a lot of countries that we play in that there’s a reason not to go, but for me, I just don’t want to go.”

In June, the PGA Tour suspended 17 golfers who are competing in the LIV series for “choosing to compete… without the proper conflicting event and media rights release.”

The suspended players include six-time PGA major winner Phil Mickelson, who reportedly signed a $200 million contract with LIV, despite having recently made some strong comments about the Saudis.

“They’re scary motherfuckers to get involved with,” he told biographer Alan Shipnuck in February. “We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights.”

“They execute people over there for being gay,” Mickelson added. “Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

LIV Golf last week joined 11 of its players, including Mickelson, in an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour challenging their suspensions.

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