9/11 families ‘betrayed’ by Saudi golf deal


Breaking his silence on the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour’s sudden merger with LIV Golf, Rory McIlroy insists he feels like a “sacrificial lamb”. The Northern Irishman, who has been highly critical of the Saudi-backed tour and turned down offers worth upwards of €400m. from LIV, has confessed he “hates” the rebel circuit and had wanted it to” go away” but now hopes the merger will create a “brighter future” for the PGA Tour.

Calling an end to golf’s civil war, the PGA and European Tours announced on the day after Memorial Day – ironically, some might say – that they had signed an agreement with the Saudi-backed circuit to combine their businesses into a new, yet-to-be-named company. However, on that Tuesday it appears even the Tour’s most prized stars – Tiger Woods included – were left in the dark. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said conversations surrounding the deal had been secretly ongoing for seven weeks.

On why more weren’t kept in the loop, Monahan said: “Given the complexity of what we were dealing with, it’s not uncommon the circle of information is very tight. This was a shock to a lot of people because we were not in a position to share or explain… maintaining confidentiality through to the end.”

On that Tuesday after Memorial Day, which honours American’s fallen, I found myself at the Twin Towers Memorial where those once iconic towers are long since no more, having given way to Ground Zero with its seeping shroud of sorrow and sustained shock and daily curiosity-seekers. I was there when word came through of the controversial pact.

Critics have hit out at the Saudi kingdom’s history of human rights violations. Family members of those who perished in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have been more vocal the past week in their protests. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, and Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks, was born in that country.

A group holding a vigil at the memorial site told me they were “shocked and deeply offended” by the news. Terry Strada, of  the group, 9/11 Families United, said: “Mr Monahan talked last summer about knowing people who lost loved ones on 9/11, then wondered aloud on national television whether LIV golfers ever had to apologise for being a member of the PGA Tour. They do now – as does he.”

Terry’s husband Tom died in the World Trade Centre’s North Tower.

Another said: “PGA Tour leaders should be ashamed of their hypocrisy and greed. Our entire 9/11 community has been betrayed by Commissioner Monahan and the PGA, as it appears their concern for our loved ones was merely window-dressing in their quest for money – never to honour the game of golf.”

Former President Donald Trump, who has hosted a number of LIV events at his golf courses, defended the merger, falsely claiming that “nobody’s got to the bottom of 9/11”.  Trump weighed in on his Truth Social platform: “A big, beautiful, and glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf. Congrats to all!!!”

On a more serious note, Padraig Harrington tweeted: “My own country sells military technology to Saudi Arabia. So many other compromises. Yes, this is sports washing, and unfortunately it proves sports washing works. But maybe one positive — inclusion and trade has shown to improve and change countries involved for the better. My own country thought it was acceptable to lock up unmarried mothers as late as 1996.”

The new partnership is a major victory for Saudi ambitions in sport but the announcement has divided players, with Jay Monahan describing his meeting with golfers as “heated”.

The PGA Tour, the dominant force in men’s professional golf for generations, and LIV Golf, which made its debut just last year and is backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in Saudi money, will together form an industry powerhouse that its supporters expect will transform the sport.

The rival circuits had spent the last year clashing in public, and the tentative agreement that emerged from secret negotiations blindsided virtually all of the world’s top players, agents and media. The deal will create a new company that would consolidate the PGA Tour’s prestige, television contracts and marketing muscle with Saudi money.

The 9/11 atrocities caused the deaths of 2,977 victims, with thousands more injured, many still today suffering long-term effects. The names of the 2,977 victims are engraved on black marble at the 9/11 Memorial. Engraved for ever…

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