England’s Eddie Pepperell has defended his decision to contest this week’s Saudi International.
The tournament has attracted a star-studded field despite the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey focusing further attention on the country’s human rights record.
Pepperell, who won his maiden European Tour title in Qatar last year, posted a lengthy blog on the topic.
“The problem with taking a moral approach to us golfers playing in Saudi Arabia this week is that it would lay bare many contradictions of the past,” Pepperell wrote. “Like, for example, why do we play in China? Or Qatar? Or Turkey?
“Depending on your time scale, you could argue that every country on earth has at some point exemplified the worst that human beings have to offer, but back to 2019.
“It clearly is true that Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is questionable at best, and appalling to anyone in the West. But should that mean we boycott competing?
“That probably depends who you are. I can really only speak for myself, and plus, remember I’m not being paid to be here.
“For me, if I didn’t play, I sacrifice the opportunity to play against the best in the world, I miss a chance to improve my world ranking also, which objectively speaking, does hold some importance for me, since if I fall out of the Top 50 before April then I won’t be eligible for a PGA Tour event I have scheduled to play.
“And that means losing flights etc and having to pay for new ones, which you might say is no problem because I’ve earned a lot of money lately, though resentment isn’t good for anybody.
“This week throws up a not new conundrum for us then; that competition supersedes morality. If I don’t show up, the field doesn’t reduce a spot, somebody takes it. With over 7 Billion people in the world, our futures might give us all an opportunity to choose between morality and survival.
“This isn’t to say morality isn’t important and should never be acted upon, but it is to say that there’s a reality to the world that while we might all dislike, still exists.
“On top of all of this, maybe, just maybe, the Regime out here really do want to change. Maybe they’ve recognised the perilous state of their own affairs and in particular their reliance on a fossil fuel that won’t be here forever.
“It might be true that they want to Liberalise their Kingdom so that they can be competitive themselves in the future. Why should we Westerners not accept this, if it is true? After all, aren’t we the true purveyors of forgiveness?”
While Paul Casey said that human rights violations were behind his decision not to compete at the Royal Greens Country Club, four of the world’s top five are among the players contesting the £2.6million event.
World number one Justin Rose defending his participation by saying “I’m not a politician, I’m a pro golfer,” after his victory in the Farmers Insurance Open, hours after Golf Channel analyst and former PGA Tour professional Brandel Chamblee delivered a withering critique of the situation.
Chamblee said: “Politically I get why you have to capitulate to Saudi Arabia and maybe from a business standpoint even, but a more definitive personal rebuke can be shown to the PR stunt of this regime by not participating, by refusing to participate, because your participation in some way enriches this regime.
“By non-participation of the athletes in general, you can in some marginal way – and I applaud Paul Casey – make a statement about human rights. Whether the European Tour knows it, whether the players know it, by participating they are a ventriloquist for this abhorrent, reprehensible regime.”