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Donald Trump has become a shameless ally of LIV Golf after forgetting his Saudi 9/11 claims

The former president welcomes the billion-dollar golf tour to his post-truth landscape as human rights groups and terrorist victims’ families protest against Saudi sportswashing, writes Kevin Garside

July 28, 2022 2:48 pm(Updated 3:46 p.m.)

On the day Amnesty International publicized the 20-year jail sentence of Saudi aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan for critical social media posts, LIV Golf revealed the make-up of the 12 teams comprising 48 golfers that will compete at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey on Friday, including new recruits Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey.

As parallel universes go, this was out there, demonstrating the wild nature of the post-truth landscape. No matter how bad things might be behind the Saudi curtain, there is always a golfing fantasy to spin and a willing accomplice in Donald Trump, who was front and center of the pre-tournament welcome party at Gotham Hall in the heart of Manhattan. As a venue it was symbolically on trend. All it needed was Batman and Robin to turn up to march the LIV rebels out in handcuffs and make the world a better place.

The presence of Trump and former First Lady Melania introduced a new level of shamelessness and audacity, inviting the paparazzi to fill their boots with shots of the players and their glamorous wives, not least Instagram headliner Paulina Gretzky, wife of Dustin Johnson.

The arrival of the Saudi-backed series just 50 miles from the site of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York was always going to present a PR challenge to the new arrivals.

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If you thought the remarks of LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman were insensitive when he filed the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the “we all make mistakes” category, he was trumped by Trump’s convoluted dissembling under questioning by a reporter about the complaints of the family and friends of the 9/11 victims protesting the Bedminster event.

Not only did Trump claim the toxic publicity over Khashoggi’s death was no longer an issue, he feigned ignorance of the complaints. “I can say that from the standpoint of Khashoggi, that he has died down so much. Nobody has asked me that question in months,” Trump said before adding, “I don’t know much about the 9/11 families, I don’t know what the relationship is to this, and their very strong feelings. And I can understand their feelings. I can’t really comment on that because I don’t know exactly what they’re saying, and what they’re saying who did what.”

In 2016, 12 months before ascending to the office of president, Trump appeared to know an awful lot more, holding the Saudis accountable for the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington DC.

We should point out that, although 15 of the 19 Al Qaeda terrorists involved shared Saudi backgrounds, Saudi Arabia denied state involvement and distanced itself from the attacks.

Trump meets Greg Norman at the welcome party for LIV Golf Invitational Bedminster (Photo: Getty)
Dustin Johnson was among the big names to meet the former president (Photo: Getty)
Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner was also in attendance (Photo: Getty)

However the association of events that day with a regime that continues to provoke abhorrence is made by 9/11 Families United, who plan protests throughout the week.

For Trump, who hosts the LIV Invitational finale at Doral in Miami in October, LIV Golf presents an opportunity for revenge against the golf authorities that rounded on him following the storming of the Capitol building by his supporters 18 months ago.

Bedminster, stripped of this year’s PGA Championship as a consequence, was an obvious choice to strike a note of anti-establishment defiance by the organizers and the host.

As well as sacked European Ryder Cup captain Stenson and Casey, who has represented Europe five times, LIV unveils at Bedminster three-time winner on the PGA Tour, Jason Kokrak and Charles Howell III, who, despite his lack of star power, makes the top 20 of the PGA Tour career money list with $40m in prizes.

They join a tawdry cast of dubious distinction led by American ticket-sellers Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka.

Understandably it is the leading American players in particular who draw the fire of the 9/11 families. Speaking on Tuesday at a rally outside Bedminster library Terry Strada, wife of victim Tom and chair of 911familiesunited.org, spoke for many during a powerful and emotional address.

“Those players who have ignorantly toed the kingdom’s line speaking from their talking points and asking the public to focus on what the Saudis are doing now, or calling the allegations against the kingdom tenuous at best, you have become mouthpieces and perfect examples of how sportswashing works. que [Saudi Arabia] is doing with LIV Golf is, they’re throwing billions of dollars into a PR stunt. They don’t care [about golf].”

LIV Golf begs to differ. In the interest of balance, they attach the following mission statement to all correspondence. “LIV Golf is owned and operated by LIV Golf Investments whose vision and mission are centered around making holistic and sustainable investments to enhance the global golf ecosystem and unlock the sport’s untapped worldwide potential.”

Meanwhile the Court of Appeal upheld Al-Radhan’s sentence in October last year. His crime of him was to raise the issue of citizen’s rights on Twitter. No holistic investment in him. If only he were a golfer.

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