By Dr Chris Edmond
IT’S been a strange couple of weeks since I wrote my last column. With each news story I’ve read I have swung between optimism and despair.
On the one hand, I am writing this while watching England’s Lionesses win in front of a packed Wembley stadium and listening to the young fan, Tess, who captured the heart of the nation with her dancing to ‘Sweet Caroline’ during the semi-final, join the presenting team on the BBC for the last game of the Euros. What a fine example of the progress we have made in equality in sport, and of inspiring future generations.
At the same time, our Jersey Commonwealth Games team are doing the Island proud, with Daniel Lee finishing an incredible sixth place in the all-around men’s gymnastics competition and Ollie Turner finishing 15th among the world’s best triathletes.
What amazing examples of sport, and humanity, at its best.
However, over on the other side of the Atlantic, the latest round of the LIV Golf Tournament is taking place. If you haven’t heard of LIV Golf (‘LIV’ being the Roman numerals for 54, the number of holes played during the tournament), it is a new tour being paid for by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.
The latest round took place in New Jersey, at Donald Trump’s Bedminster Course. In a rather bizarre turn of events, this is exactly where Trump’s ex-wife Ivana was buried a couple of weeks earlier, in a rather sad and lonely-looking plot behind the clubhouse, reportedly due to the tax breaks available when land is used as a cemetery in the state.
Much like Trump, the LIV Tour itself has been beset by controversy. It is not authorised by the US PGA or the European Tour and players in those competitions have been threatened with sanctions for taking part in the newly formed contest. Until recently Henrik Stenson led the European Ryder Cup team, but he was stripped of his captaincy after joining the LIV Tour.
Far more importantly, the new tour faces accusations of ‘sportswashing’ the reputation of the Saudi regime, particularly following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. In a barely believable statement, Greg Norman, an ex-golfer and now chief executive of LIV Golf, defended the involvement of the Saudi Crown Prince in the murder, stating: ‘Look, we’ve all made mistakes, and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.’
It really is amazing what people can overlook when there is money involved, and in this case the sums are vast: players are reportedly being paid up to $150m to switch to the LIV Tour, with a prize fund of $405m planned for the 2023 series. The whole affair is very reminiscent of the plan for a European Super League in Football, which, had it gone ahead, would have blocked most teams from ever reaching the pinnacle of the game and hoarded the spoils for those already at the top. At least that venture was stopped following an outcry among fans and politicians alike.
I find sport tends to hold up a mirror to society. In sport and life there are amazing people doing amazing things (and fairly reaping the rewards), and many others getting stuck in, trying their best and hopefully enjoying their journey no matter their level of success.
But does our society behave too much like LIV Golf and the European Super League? Our tax structures provide great wealth for some, and our Island has at times attracted money from the ‘morally ambiguous’, to put it politely. We also know about fortunes made in the property market – how the lucky do very well renting out their multiple properties while first-time buyers have fewer and fewer opportunities to buy a home. Those who say such opportunities are just down to hard work surely must recognise that without a leg-up, or a lot of luck, that’s just not the case any more.
At the same time, life at the grass roots of society is getting far harder. In the past week I have spoken to more than one person struggling literally to put any food on the table each day, and often going hungry as a result. Such stories will become more commonplace as inflation soars.
In contrast, the day after one such conversation I read that someone in the Island had organised a private air display over St Aubin’s Bay. Only a few weeks earlier, another visitor was given special dispensation to land their helicopter at Les Landes racecourse.
We know that money talks. It always has and probably always will. As in sport, a healthy degree of fair competition is a good thing, and brings out the best in us. But I don’t want to live in an island equivalent of LIV Golf or the European Super League. I want to live in an island that prioritises equality, fair play and ethics; an island that is more Lioness, and less LIV.
Dr Edmond is the founder and medical director of WorkHealth (CI) Ltd, a dedicated Jersey-based occupational health provider. He is also a director at Jersey Sport and Jersey Recovery College, and adviser to the Jersey Community Foundation. He writes in a personal capacity.