The moral outrage over Greg Norman’s extraordinary defence of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has spread far beyond golf but rarely pierced the complicity within its locker rooms. Norman’s obscenely lucrative invitational series, solely funded by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, has drawn coy interest rather than condemnation from players over the past few months and it was only after Phil Mickelson made a similar gaffe in February that the prospect of a rival league was reduced to a series of eight disruptive events.
The first of those will take place at Centurion Club in St Albans next month, with Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter among those who have sought releases to compete in the $25m tournament. That has become a legal battleground in itself, with Norman pledging to “defend, reimburse and represent” players if their participation leads to fines and bans from the PGA and DP World Tours. That threat of uncertainty may well provoke a new wave of hesitancy but moral impediments have been far less apparent.
In February, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, a colourful and popular journeyman on the European Tour, said he wouldn’t accept an invitation to any Saudi-backed event after watching a BBC documentary on the war in Yemen. Now the Frenchman is urging his fellow players to speak up and is calling on fans to boycott the first event at Centurion.
“If you go to the players’ lounge at any time, at least one table is speaking about [the LIV Series],” he tells The Independent. “Even me, I’d love to play for that amount of money as well for my family, my passions, but there is a time when you need to stand up a little bit and be a human being. I know there are players who are uncomfortable with it but it feels like they are staying quiet just in case there’s a piece of the cake coming to them one day. Some players will speak but the crowd needs to boycott it as well, don’t go there.”
The LIV Golf Invitational Series is set to be worth an astonishing $225m in 2022 alone and Lorenzo-Vera says the vast sums being thrown at players are “not logical” and make it nigh on impossible for the main tours to ward off the threat of a rival league, with Norman announcing that the Saudis had invested an additional $2bn on Tuesday.
“There is no chance it can be stopped now,” Lorenzo-Vera says. “They have so much money and they have Greg Norman. They’re going to build a tour slowly, they’re going to succeed for sure. I’m just speaking my voice but with no hope.”
Until such a rival league is properly established, though, Lorenzo-Vera likens the invitational events, which will be played over 54 holes without a cut, to a “comedy show”.
“If you play like s***, you still take a hundred grand,” he says. “The guys at the top will be fighting but for the rest, it’s like a paid holiday. The format is not golf. It’s just a show.”
Lorenzo-Vera idolised all of Norman, Westwood and Garcia growing up and “respects them so much as golf players”. But in the case of the latter two especially, who have earned a combined £60m in career prize money alone, Lorenzo-Vera says he struggles to reconcile that admiration with their choice. “I’m huge fans of them but I don’t get it,” he says. “I don’t understand, I might be stupid, but just for money you would spit on the PGA Tour?”
He is not blind to the hypocrisy of that statement, having twice accepted invitations to play in Saudi Arabia in the past, nor does he claim to be virtuous or politically correct. But on the second of those visits for the controversial Saudi International event that used to be part of the European Tour schedule, Lorenzo-Vera said he felt “uncomfortable” and the experience “left a strange taste” in his mouth.
“I’m only a sportsman, I stopped school early, I didn’t reach much of the news when I was younger so I speak about emotions and how I feel,” he says. “Some places feel wrong for me to go to play and Saudi is definitely one of those. And don’t get me wrong, we’re going to places [on the European Tour] we shouldn’t go already. But that doesn’t mean we should allow Saudi as well. We can minimise the problem instead of keeping it going.”
It is an individual choice and Lorenzo-Vera stresses that he can sympathise with less successful players who may need the money to secure their future. “I would’ve definitely made the mistake to do it when I was younger,” he says. But he’s 37 now and worries that one day, once his children are older, they might feel ashamed that he took the money. That is not a cross he wants to bear, nor does he believe he’s alone in that regard.
You cannot be perfect, but you can try to be just a bit better,” he says. “The players are scared to say this, they’re scared to take the heat. Be respectful to people but if you’re against something, just say it.”
WWE always tells fans that the card is subject to change so it’s always possible that someone who is advertised for a show might not actually appear.
When WWE sent word out about Money In The Bank heading to Allegiant Stadium, the home of the Las Vegas Raiders, several major names were advertised. SmackDown Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar, Charlotte Flair, Bobby Lashley, and WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns were all advertised to appear but that is no longer the case.
The original ad listed Reigns, Lesnar, Rousey, Lashley, Flair, Becky Lynch, Drew McIntyre, and Bianca Belair. The new ad features Belair, Matt Riddle, Cody Rhodes, The Miz, Rhea Ripley, The Street Profits, and Drew McIntyre.
Flair is getting married soon and she is taking time off to be with her husband Andrade El Idolo. Rousey being pulled is surprising since she is looked at as a draw and Reigns is also surprising because, as reported in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, there were three major matches planned for him this summer. Reigns was reportedly scheduled for matches against Riddle, Randy Orton, and Drew McIntyre. One of those matches may have to wait until a later date if Reigns doesn’t appear at MITB.
After missing 31 months with two major lower leg injuries, Thompson is understandably excited to be back on the big stage. If the Warriors can close out the Mavericks in Game 5, the three-time NBA champion can shimmy all night long.
Dub Nation is certainly enjoying the Warriors’ Western Conference finals performance against the Dallas Mavericks, but they might be having just as much fun getting into it with Charles Barkley ahead of home games.
Now, his fellow TNT analysts are joining in on the fun.
Before Game 5 of the series at Chase Center on Thursday, Shaquille O’Neal helped the crowd poke fun at his “Inside the NBA” co-host, who has been subjected to “Chuck you suck” chants whenever he steps foot near Thrive City.
With his microphone in hand as a makeshift baton, O’Neal honked on a Golden State-colored plastic horn as he encouraged the Barkley chant from the “Inside the NBA” outdoor set.
In another clip, O’Neal can be seen pumping his fist along to the chant and encouraging the crowd to yell even louder.
Along with O’Neal’s antics, Kenny Smith laughed that he was seated next to San Francisco’s “Public Enemy No. 1” during the pregame show — a title well-earned after Barkley called the city “hell” and has openly rooted against the Warriors throughout the West finals.
And after picking the Mavericks to advance to the NBA Finals over Golden State, Barkley on Thursday picked the Boston Celtics to win the championship. The Celtics currently hold a three-games-to-two lead over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.