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LIV Golf joins a long list of sport events where money talks

Sports stars have always been faced with the question of whether to choose morals over money

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Dustin Johnson is among the big names in the LIV Golf series

Does everyone have their price? Following the launch of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf and its first series event held in the UK, it seems a reasonable question to ask.

The launch of rebel organisations to challenge the status quo of a particular sport through new events and new formats is nothing new. Neither is the promise of untold riches through appearance fees, prize money and bonuses. 

Notable examples include the rebel cricket tours to South Africa in the 1980s when some cricketers were offered in excess of $100,000 to play a series, far more than their peers were earning at the time. The players were subsequently hit with international cricket bans, which ended the careers of most of the squad.

Cricket hit the headlines again in 2008 with the ill-fated Stanford Super Series involving Texan “billionaire” Allen Stanford, who extravagantly partnered with the England Cricket Board to stage a series of T20 matches between the West Indies and England. 

Vast sums of money were reportedly involved – $20 million per game including $1 million to each in the winning team – but it was said it would benefit the sport’s development in the West Indies and in England. The choice of the T20 format would also challenge the status quo of the longer form test match. 

However, months after the first game in the West Indies was won by the home side, Stanford was arrested for investment fraud. He was convicted in 2012 of running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme and sentenced to 110 years in jail. 

But there are also success stories of competing sports’ governing bodies being able to operate events in the same calendar year as each other. Cricket, with the launch of the IPL in 2008, is one example. 

Let’s be clear, the players in the IPL are attracted by the money involved and have been honest about that, being rewarded for their participation in a format that has revolutionised the sport. 

And with a new media broadcasting rights agreement worth a reported $6.2 million set to take effect in 2023-27, the appearance and prize money available to players could increase even further. 

The Abu Dhabi T10 was launched in 2017 and after the UAE stepped in during the pandemic to stage the ICC T20 World Cup, it has grown to attract some of the world’s best players by providing sufficient financial incentives.

Other sports such as MMA, UFC and boxing have held world championship title events in the region, on Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island and in Saudi Arabia.

Would the promoters have staged these events in the Middle East had the significant financials involved not been presented? It is very doubtful. 

There is a well-reported moral case to consider when staging events in Saudi Arabia, but sports investments can potentially help create a more open society by developing a world-class hub for sports and entertainment, and by encouraging sports development at the grassroots level. 

Major sports events will continue to be held in the kingdom regardless, from motor sports including F1, golf and, if recent reports are correct, more tennis tournaments in conjunction with the WTA. 

With the first FIFA World Cup to be held in the Middle East set to kick off in Qatar in November, more eyes than ever are on the region and its sporting ambitions.

Not all players will be attracted by the big money on offer. High profile sportsmen such as Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Sir Andy Murray have all reportedly rejected invitations from Saudi Arabia.

Each will have their own reasons why, be that reputational or maybe they are just fine with how things are for them personally and they don’t need to switch it up – for the time being at least.

Away from sport, would the offer of a significantly higher salary persuade us to join another company?

Unless there are high levels of loyalty to a particular company for whatever reason, I imagine most would at least seriously consider that offer and even likely accept. Especially when trying to provide for our families in a world where the costs of living are rapidly increasing.

What the launch of LIV Golf does do for its sport is challenge the longstanding status quo at the highest level and offers players greater choice about how, where and when they play, freeing up more time for them to spend with families which can be limited. 

Not to mention the mental health related pressures the sport may bring. Playing less frequently in the public eye but for considerably more money will appeal to higher as well as lower ranked pros. 

Charl Schwartzel’s reported $4 million prize winnings from LIV Golf’s first event – as well as the signing on fee – compared with Matt Fitzpatrick’s $3 million maiden major win reward at the US Open speaks for itself. (Incidentally, Fitzpatrick took home the highest ever winner’s prize in major history.) 

More players will undoubtedly join LIV Golf, even if the PGA in response to the Saudi competition is increasing players’ earning ability through new format events – while continuing itself to accept the sponsorship fees generously provided by the backers of LIV Golf.

So yes, everyone does have their price, be it a monetary or a moral one. 

Players at the pinnacle of their sport will continue to be in demand and offers of greater wealth and fortune will come their way. Whether they choose to accept those offers is another matter.

Sunny Singh is the managing director of Collaborate! Sports and Entertainment

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