LIV Golf boss says he never discussed human rights with Saudi Crown Prince

LIV Golf boss says he never discussed human rights with Saudi Crown Prince
LIV Golf is controversially bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, and several rights groups have accused the kingdom of using the golf tournament to 'sportswash' its abysmal human rights record.
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LIV Golf chief Greg Norman said he has never spoken about human rights with the Saudis [Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images]

LIV Golf boss Greg Norman said Thursday he had never discussed human rights with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, while urging people to focus on sport and not "white noise".

Bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which is chaired by Prince Muhammad bin Salman, LIV split the elite golf world last year by luring away top stars from the US PGA Tour and DP World Tour.

It will tee off in Australia on Friday for the first time, with sell-out crowds in Adelaide from a nation starved of big-ticket tournaments and superstar players.

But tour bosses face questions about Saudi Arabia's "sportswashing" - the use of sport to deflect criticisms of its human rights record, including the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Asked if he had ever met Prince Muhammad bin Salman or senior members of the Saudi leadership to discuss human rights, Norman said he hadn't, insisting it was not his job.

"Why not? Because I am the chairman and CEO of LIV Golf Investments, and that's where I focus, I focus on golf, I stay focused on golf," he said in Adelaide.

"My job is to build out LIV and the product and the platform we have on the global front.

"Golf is a force for good," he added. "I've built golf courses in Third World countries, in communist countries. So golf is a force for good, it goes everywhere with the right platform."

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Human Rights Watch told national broadcaster ABC the tournament was a blatant example of sportswashing, calling it a "tool" to improve the international image of Saudi Arabia.

"We really see LIV Golf as a major sportswashing attempt by Saudi Arabia to cover up its egregious abuses," the organisation's Joey Shea said.

But Norman said he was proud to have brought the 54-hole, no-cut circuit, branded as "Golf but Louder", to his homeland, saying it was "what fans want".

"Forgetting all the white noise that everybody talks about and writes about, this is all about the game of golf and what's good for the game of golf and what's good for the local region," he said.

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South Australia state Premier Peter Malinauskas, sitting next to Norman at the Grange Golf Club, said hosting the tournament was an unparalleled economic opportunity and that Australia was a long-time trading partner with Saudi Arabia.

"I think as a nation, and indeed South Australia, I think we have a really proud track record of advocating on behalf of the cause of humanity, generally when it comes to human rights considerations," he said.

"But we choose as a country to actively trade with Saudi Arabia, the largest economy within the Middle East, and we do that knowingly, without at any step of the way compromising what we collectively believe in as a country.

"LIV is not a representative of Saudi Arabia, LIV is a golf tournament, a golf tour that is shaking things up, and I think that is a good thing," he added.