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Phil Mickelson brands Saudi Arabia 'scary motherfuckers' over rights record

US golfer slams Riyadh but admits he is only using proposed rebel Saudi golf tour as leverage against US-based PGA
Mickelson has expressed distaste for the Saudi government but not whether he is among the 20 or so players who reportedly have signed up with the Super Golf League (AFP)

US golfer Phil Mickelson has described Saudi Arabia’s government as “scary motherfuckers” in a scattergun attack on both sides in a power struggle over the future of the game.

Mickelson criticised the kingdom's human rights record in remarks published on Thursday, even while in discussions to join a new Saudi-backed golf circuit, saying he was only using the new tour as leverage to prise more concessions out of the US-based PGA Tour.

In an interview recorded in November, but only just published on the website, Mickelson revealed that he and three other players had hired lawyers to write the operating agreement for the proposed Super Golf League (SGL), which he said was "sportswashing".

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Sports and entertainment events have formed part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy and improve its international reputation. 

The kingdom has played host to several international sporting events in recent years, including Formula One, wrestlingfootball, and world heavyweight boxing.

Rights groups have described the events as attempts to distract attention from the country's human rights record.  

Addressing the controversy over "sportswashing," Mickelson, a six-time major champion, said that “they’re scary motherfuckers to get involved with.

"We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights," he said, referring to journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye, and Washington Post columnist, who was killed in Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate in 2018.

"They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? 

"Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.

"They've been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse."

Top dog

Saudi Arabia's government denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it is protecting national security from extremists and external actors.

Left unanswered in Mickelson's expressed distaste for the Saudi government is whether he is among the 20 or so players who reportedly have signed up with the SGL.

The PGA Tour, which is long the game's undisputed top dog as far as field quality, prize money, and prestige is concerned, has vowed to ban anyone who joins the rebel tour.

Others apart from 51-year-old Mickelson are rumoured to have signed up, including long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau, fellow American Kevin Na, and several veteran European players.

But most of the current crop of top players have already announced their loyalty to the PGA Tour, including global star Rory McIlroy, three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, and, on Wednesday, world number one Jon Rahm.

Secretive concern

Long-time former world number one Greg Norman is spearheading the SGL as chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, which is backed by the Saudi Investment Fund.

Norman, known as "The Shark," recently told reporters that more details would soon be forthcoming, saying "this is just the beginning".

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Efforts to create a new global circuit have been going on for several years.

Reuters reported in 2018 that a secretive concern named the World Golf Group was offering top players big money for a new tour that it subsequently dubbed the Premier Golf League.

But that circuit never came to fruition, and in the past couple of years has been superseded by the Saudi effort.

PGA Tour journeyman Kramer Hickok told The Stripe Show podcast this week that the SGL had signed up 17 players.

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