Women golfers urged to skip Saudi tour over rights violations

Women golfers urged to skip Saudi tour over rights violations
A coalition of NGOs have called on organisers and participants to scrap this year's Ladies European Tour golf week in Saudi Arabia.
4 min read
21 October, 2020
The prize fund comes directly from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund [Getty]
Top women golf players have been urged to skip a tournament in Saudi Arabia next month over rights violations in the ultraconservative kingdom.

"While we acknowledge that such tournaments represent an important milestone in women's golf, we are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia is using this sports event as a public relations tool to sportswash its appalling human rights record, including the discrimination against women and the crackdown on women's rights defenders," a coalition of 19 international NGOs said in an open letter on Thursday.

The letter is addressed to the organisers of and participants in the Ladies European Tour, an annual series of professional golf tournaments.

One such event is set to take place between November 12 and 19 at the Royal Greens Golf Club near Jeddah. International players will compete for a $1 million prize in the first tournament, after which Saudi golfers will play for a $500,000 prize.

The prize fund is supplied by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, chaired by the kingdom's de-facto ruler and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Public Investment Fund has "invested billions into campaigns to whitewash their human rights abuses, including downplaying the abhorrent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi", NGOs including CODEPINK said on Thursday.

"While we hope that Saudi Arabia can indeed develop its interaction with other countries around the world through hosting sports and other events in the Kingdom, we cannot ignore the country's attempt to conceal its continued detention of women's rights activists and discrimination against women by hosting a women's sports tournament," the NGOs said.

Organisations including ALQST, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights highlighted Saudi Arabia's detention of women's rights activists in their open letter on Thursday.

In particular, the rights advocates highlighted the case of Loujain Al-Hathloul, a Saudi activist swept up alongside ten other female activists more than two years ago.

Hathloul and other women's rights activists have faced torture and sexual harassment during their detention by Saudi authorities, her family and rights organisations have alleged.

While Riyadh has eased restrictions on women in recent years, these rights reforms belie real progress, the open letter said.

"The only way to achieve true progress, in the eyes of the world, is to implement real reforms on women's rights, and immediately release the activists who have been arrested for defending these rights," the NGOs said, urging the Ladies European Tour organisers and players to call for the activists' release.

Lawmakers urge G20 boycott

The open letter comes as human rights organisations and Western lawmakers urge world leaders to boycott a series of summits held in Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh is hosting this year's virtual G20 summit, in addition to satellite conferences including the W20 women's summit and the U20 mayors' summit.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed a bill condemning Saudi rights abuses and urging European Union leaders to skip next month's G20 summit.

A group of 45 American lawmakers issued a similar call to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday.

Human Rights Watch also called for W20 attendees to "refuse to play a role in Saudi Arabia's whitewashing efforts" as the women's summit began on Wednesday.

Instead, they should "use their platform to speak up for Saudi women's rights champions, and advocate for the end of all discrimination against women", the New York-based rights watchdog said.

The sister of jailed activist Hathloul added on Wednesday that attending the W20 summit would "legitimise a regime that silences all voices on human rights, including women's voices".

"If women don't speak out about what is happening in Saudi Arabia, then the situation won't change," Lina Al-Hathloul said.

The U20 summit which took place earlier this month was boycotted by mayors from New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles over similar concerns.

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