Rory McIlroy has described renewed proposals for a Super Golf League as a “money grab”, and insisted his opposition to a lucrative breakaway competition remained firm.
McIlroy compared the Saudi-backed plans to the recent, swiftly-aborted attempt to create a European Super League in football, and he again declared he would turn down any offers to take part in an alternative league, no matter what the price.
The 32-year-old was first approached to compete in an elite series of tournaments in 2014, and he was the focus of renewed attempts to launch an ambitious Premier Golf League early last year, when he admitted he “did not like where the money was coming from”.
The plans were put on hold when the coronavirus pandemic began to take its grip on the world, but rumours of a “competitive threat” in the form of a Super Golf League re-emerged earlier this week, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose were among a group of high-profile players offered vast financial incentives to sign up.
McIlroy felt the timing of the reports were not a coincidence, with the SGL a topic of discussion at the annual PGA Tour players meeting ahead of this week’s Wells Fargo Championship, with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan understood to have threatened members with sanctions if they signed up for a breakaway competition, believed to be financed by private equity firm, Raine Group.
“They first contacted me back in 2014, so this is seven years down the line and nothing has really changed,” said McIlroy at Quail Hollow, where he is a two-time champion. “Maybe the source of the money has changed or the people that are in charge have changed, but nothing has happened.
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“If you go back to what happened last week in Europe with the European Super League in football, people can see it for what it is, which is a money grab, which is fine if that’s what you’re playing golf for is to make as much money as possible. Totally fine, then go and do that if that’s what makes you happy.
“But I’m playing this game to try to cement my place in history and my legacy and to win major championships and to win the biggest tournaments in the world. I honestly don’t think there’s a better structure in place in golf, and I don’t think there will be.
“You have the strategic partnership as well between Europe and the PGA Tour and that’s only going to strengthen the structure of golf going forward as well in terms of scheduling and all sorts of other stuff and working together a little bit more.
“I don’t think it was a coincidence that the news came out yesterday just as the PGA Tour was having their annual player meeting and Jay addressing the membership. Yeah, I think you all know my feelings on it and I’m very much against it. I don’t see why anyone would be for it.”
McIlroy, now chairman of the Tour’s Player Advisory Council, also insisted he would lead the way in “protecting the product” of the PGA Tour, and he reiterated his doubts that the SGL would ever get off the ground if the top players are barred from Tour competition, the major championships and the Ryder Cup.
“You have to protect your product, right? You have to protect what you have, because this is a competitive threat. Jay took us through it last night, and if I were in charge of the PGA Tour, I would do the same thing.
“You saw what happened last week with the European Super League. The top 12 clubs got together and said ‘Let’s keep more of the money for ourselves’, and people didn’t like that. It affects competition, it affects the integrity of competition. I just can’t see how it works.
“It’s a complicated issue, but I just don’t see at this point how it can get going. And the possibility that people, if they do go in that direction, can’t play in the biggest tournaments in the game?
“The game of golf, whether it’s a right thing or a wrong thing, is so about history. We still talk about Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen and Ben Hogan and all those guys because that’s what this game is. It’s steeped in history and the legacies that those guys have.
“If you move further away from that, you’re basically losing the essence of what competitive golf is. Again, that’s my stance on it and that’s been my stance for a long time. I just can’t see how it happens.”
The alleged proposals have also been condemned by Amnesty International, with their UK spokesman Felix Jakens saying: “It isn’t just the similarity with the European Super League that may cause consternation among golf fans and the wider public, it’s the fact that once again Saudi Arabia appears to be going full throttle with its ‘sports-washing’ efforts.
“From boxing to football and Grand Prix, Saudi Arabia is sinking vast sums into sport as part of a strategy to ‘rebrand’ the country’.
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“The authorities in Riyadh clearly hope that a glitzy Saudi-backed golf tournament will help shift attention away from their jailing of peaceful activists like Loujain al-Hathloul, the grisly state-sanctioned murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in neighbouring Yemen.
“While all the talk at present is of possible sanctions for players who might join a breakaway Super Golf League, golfers should also consider the effects of Saudi sports-washing and their role within it.
“Any golfer tempted by a lucrative Saudi-backed tournament ought to be ready to speak out about human rights in Saudi Arabia as a means of counteracting its intended sports-washing effect.”
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