Sports

Westwood defends decision to request release for Saudi-backed event

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ee Westwood has confirmed his request to be released by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to play in the first event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.

Reports have suggested that 15 of the top 100 players in the world are seeking releases for the tournament at Centurion Club in Hertfordshire from June 9-11. Phil Mickelson is one of those to confirm his intention to be in the 48-man field, as has Richard Bland, while Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia are among those rumoured to be interested.

It is the first of eight scheduled events in 2022, with each expected to have prize money in the region of £20m.

The PGA and DP World Tours have in the past suggested lifetime bans could be given to those who play in the breakaway events, while those involved will potentially miss out on any future Ryder Cup involvement.

Westwood has added his name to the list of those who have publicly confirmed they have requested a release to play next month, defending his right to do so.

“This is my job, I do this for money,” Westwood said.

“It’s not the only reason, but if anybody comes along and gives any of us a chance at a pay rise, then you have to seriously consider it.”

The project, led by CEO Greg Norman, has faced huge criticism in recent months, and seemingly fell apart earlier in the year before it had even launched.

Mickelson announced his decision to step away from the sport after his comments on the Saudi regime became public, while Rory McIlroy was among those to question why any of the top players would participate.

However, Westwood believes that golf’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is facing unfair scrutiny when compared to other major sports that have links to the country.

“We’ve played European Tour in Saudi Arabia and I’ve had releases from the PGA Tour to say I can play in Saudi Arabia, so it has been no problem to them in previous years,” Westwood said.

“Formula One raced there. Newcastle United are owned partly by people from Saudi Arabia. There has been boxing there and I think there has been snooker and darts there as well.

“Golf’s not the first sport to have links with Saudi Arabia, but it seems to be coming under more scrutiny than anyone else. Whether you think that’s right or not is the individual’s opinion.”

Amnesty International last year called the proposed Saudi-backed events a ‘brazen’ example of sportswashing, urging golfers to read up on the country’s human rights record before signing up.

When asked about those issues, Westwood said he believed the country was trying to change through sport.

“I think Saudi Arabia obviously know they’ve got issues,” Westwood said.

“I think lots of countries around the world have got issues and I think they’re trying to improve. They’re trying to do it through sport, which a lot of places, a lot of countries do.

“I think they’re doing it a lot quicker than some countries have tried to do it and that maybe worries or scares people. People don’t like change do they, they like continuity and things to stay the same.”

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