The PGA Tour on Tuesday defended its controversial deal with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf league before senators, several of whom are critical of the agreement.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on investigations kicked off its first hearing about the merger of the PGA Tour’s and LIV’s commercial assets.
A representative from LIV Tour or Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will not be present at the hearing because CEO Greg Norman is out of the country, according to a spokesperson. Ron Price, chief operating officer of PGA Tour, is slated to testify.
The June merger announcment shocked the sports world, with many critics on Capitol Hill accusing LIV, which is funded by the PIF, of “sportswashing,” or spreading government influence through sports.
While the subcommittee’s chair, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is a critic of the deal, ranking member Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., took a softer tone.
“I hope the hearing gives the PGA the opportunity to describe the challenge it faces in operating and managing professional golf,” Johnson told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday. “The PGA was faced with an existential threat and this is what their trying to do to preserve the game of golf and the purity of the competition at the highest level.”
Critics have also pointed to the Saudi government’s ties to the 9/11 attacks, which the Saudis have denied, and the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A spokesperson for Blumenthal said the committee is preparing to hear testimony from Norman as well as tour golfers sometime in the future.
“Today’s hearing is about much more than the game of golf…It is about how a brutal, repressive regime can buy influence – indeed even take over – a cherished American institution simply to cleanse its public image,” he said in a statement. “A regime that has killed journalists, jailed and tortured dissidents, fostered the war in Yemen, and supported other terrorist activities, including 9/11. It’s called sportswashing.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.