A top senator on Monday launched the first inquiry into the controversial deal between the PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf, raising concerns about “a foreign government entity assuming control over a cherished American institution.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Investigations, wrote to the heads of the two sports organizations requesting records related to the deal. Blumenthal highlighted documents that could shed light on the behavior of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which owns LIV Golf, as well as the PGA Tour’s tax-exempt status and any law enforcement investigations regarding the partnership.
The Public Investment Fund “has announced that it intends to use investments in sports to further the Saudi government’s strategic objectives,” wrote Blumenthal in the letters.
“The senator continued, “Critics have cast such Saudi investments in sports as a means of ‘sportswashing,’ given Saudi Arabia’s deeply disturbing human rights record at home and abroad.”
The PGA Tour fought LIV last year, including in federal court, and many top golfers decried the Saudi gambit. The two sides agreed to drop their legal disputes after they announced their plan for a merger last week.
The PGA Tour claimed that it would have ultimate power over the new golf behemoth. But many observers say that is unlikely given the proposed organization’s reliance on a promised infusion of funding from the Saudi state.
LIV Golf declined to comment on Blumenthal’s investigation. A representative for the PGA Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Congress has little power to block the deal between the two organizations, but Blumenthal and other critics could stimulate public outrage, making it harder to achieve.
U.S. officials’ appetite for confronting Saudi Arabia has sharply waned in recent years after many policymakers pledged to press the kingdom over its close cooperation with Russia and actions like the state-sponsored assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign promise to rethink U.S.-Saudi ties led to few policy changes. And Republicans have shown little interest in questioning the golf organizations’ moves. Former President Donald Trump ― a pro-Saudi voice who is the GOP’s 2024 presidential front-runner ― has praised LIV, and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Blumenthal’s counterpart on the Senate investigative panel, argued Capitol Hill has no role in the deal.
Senator Blumenthal’s inquiry into the merger of the PGA Tour and LIV Golf reflects the growing concern regarding foreign investment in the American sports industry. The investigation aims to scrutinize the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s involvement in LIV Golf, as well as the tax-exempt status of the PGA Tour.
Critics of the deal claim that the merger is a means of “sportswashing” Saudi Arabia’s image, given its poor human rights record at home and abroad. The merger is part of Saudi Arabia’s strategic objective to invest in sports to further its interests.
Despite the limited power of Congress to block the deal, public outrage could make it harder to achieve. The proposed organization’s dependence on Saudi state funding raises concerns over the PGA Tour’s ultimate control of the joint venture.
The inquiry comes in a period of dwindling interest in confronting Saudi Arabia among US officials. However, Senate investigators will likely highlight the need to safeguard American institutions against foreign entities’ undue influence.