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Trump Embraces LIV Golf, Backing a Latest Saudi Strategy

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Donald J. Trump has long toyed with becoming a sports baron.

He tried for years to purchase an N.F.L. franchise and was a face of a second-tier football league that collapsed. He backed a would-be rival to Major League Baseball that never materialized and briefly put his name on a race for elite cyclists.

Now, after many years of failure and rejection in sports, the previous president is embracing an athletic gambit with an urgent craving for credibility: LIV Golf, the invitational series that has upended skilled golf and, flush with money from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, is seen as one other Saudi effort to make use of sports as a repute sanitizer.

Coming as the previous president weighs one other White House campaign and as diplomats navigate a posh relationship strained by Saudi Arabia’s human rights record — including the 2018 murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a source of international outrage that Trump has repeatedly played down — the Trump family’s selection to welcome LIV Golf to 2 of its courses this 12 months carries the starkest geopolitical overtones of any of Trump’s sports forays.

It could also undermine the get-tough message that many Republicans have sounded on Saudi Arabia, and it’s making a few of the Trump family’s ties to the dominion decidedly, and defiantly, public.

They roared into view as Trump, who has long been related to golf and who was critical of Saudi Arabia as a presidential candidate, publicly pressed top athletes to defect from the PGA Tour to the LIV series, which has lured top players with offers of hundreds of thousands of dollars in guaranteed money. They can be displayed again this weekend, when the Saudi-backed series will hold a tournament at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Latest Jersey. They usually are expected to surface again in October, when a Trump course near Miami is scheduled to host the ultimate event of the 12 months.

Like much in Trump’s orbit, the deepening relationship, which could ultimately pose concerns about conflicts of interest if the previous president ever returns to public office, is one in every of mutual convenience and murky provenance. It shouldn’t be clear how much the Trump Organization will make from hosting the Saudi-financed events.

Beyond any money, though, the corporate’s portfolio of courses is gaining fresh attention and, crucially to a former president who seeks adulation, a record of hosting a few of the world’s finest golfers.

And as Trump takes his place, for the moment, as a figure adjoining to big-time sports, the Saudi fund is picking up a former American president’s imprimatur on a technique that has sometimes been condemned as “sportswashing.”

“I believe it’s money, it’s greed, it’s power,” said Brett Eagleson, the president of 9/11 Justice, which has raised questions on whether any Saudi officials had a task within the 2001 attacks.

A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series

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A recent series. The launch of recent Saudi-financed LIV Golf series has resurfaced longstanding questions on athletes’ moral obligations and their desire to compete and earn money. Here’s what to know:

What’s LIV Golf? The series is an upstart skilled golf circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Its organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the very best level of professional golf for nearly a century.

Why is the brand new series controversial? The event has created sparks inside golf for upending the traditions and strictures of how the sport is played. It has also turn out to be a lightning rod for human rights campaigners who accuse Saudi Arabia of using sports to launder its repute.

Who’s playing it? Lots of the largest names in golf, reminiscent of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have stayed away from LIV Golf. But several big names and former major champions, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio García, joined. Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who was presupposed to lead Europe’s team on the 2023 Ryder Cup, was removed as captain after announcing his move to the series.

What’s attracting the players? The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history. The primary tournament’s total purse was $25 million, and the winner’s share was $4 million. The last-place finisher at each event was guaranteed $120,000. That’s on top of the looks fees and nine-figure signing-on payouts some players have accepted.

“It’s a nonstarter to have a former president benefiting from those that are accused of murdering our members of the family,” said Eagleson, whose father died on the World Trade Center.

Some Americans with extensive experience within the Middle East see a former president unhesitatingly pursuing money but few hazards to the US’ relationship with Saudi Arabia.

“To him, it’s a business thing, and I don’t think he’s particularly apprehensive concerning the image it’s going to give him,” Joseph W. Westphal, an American ambassador to Saudi Arabia throughout the Obama administration, said of Trump.

LIV Golf, he added, is “one other business enterprise by the Saudis that I’m sure they hope will improve their image.”

Golf shouldn’t be Saudi Arabia’s only sports interest. Last 12 months, the Public Investment Fund, which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman oversees, helped purchase a Premier League soccer team, and it has also put money into boxing and Formula 1 racing.

A spokesman didn’t make Trump, whose successor, President Biden, met with the crown prince in Saudi Arabia this month, available for an interview. Neither the spokesman nor a Trump Organization representative responded to written questions.

But Trump told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that “LIV has been an ideal thing for Saudi Arabia, for the image of Saudi Arabia.”

Trump was not all the time enamored of the Saudi government. As a presidential candidate in 2016, he accused Saudis of a task in Sept. 11, and, grouping Saudi Arabia with Qatar during a debate, he said that the country included “those who push gays” from buildings and “kill women and treat women horribly.”

Upon his arrival within the Oval Office, though, Trump adopted a much more conciliatory tone. His first foreign trip as president was to Riyadh, where he reveled in a lavish welcome. In 2018, after American intelligence officials concluded that Prince Mohammed had authorized Khashoggi’s killing, Trump publicly resisted their evaluation and accepted the crown prince’s denials of responsibility.

After Trump left his office, his allies, with money to make and clout to maintain, turned to Saudi Arabia as a business pipeline. The sovereign wealth fund agreed to take a position $2 billion in a firm controlled by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. The Saudi fund also put $1 billion right into a firm run by Steven Mnuchin, who had been Trump’s Treasury secretary.

Now the Trump empire has turn out to be openly enmeshed with LIV Golf, which says it desires to “modernize and supercharge” the game by delivering “golf, but not as you realize it.” LIV Golf said Wednesday that it could hold 14 events next 12 months, up from eight in 2022, and offer $405 million in purses, a rise from the $255 million that’s up for grabs this 12 months.

This weekend’s event at Bedminster, a 54-hole, no-cut competition, will include Phil Mickelson, the six-time major tournament winner, and other winners of major championships like Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio García and Dustin Johnson. The Trump Organization has been openly promoting its affiliation with the series for months, and Trump has urged top golfers to affix it.

Although the series has lured stars like Mickelson and Johnson, defying the PGA Tour, which has imposed suspensions on the rebel players, other leading golfers have condemned the breakaway group. Tiger Woods said that defectors had “turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position.” He also supported the choice of the R&A, the British Open’s organizer, to banish Greg Norman, LIV’s chief executive and a two-time Open victor, from festivities in Scotland this month.

The R&A individually warned that it could change the entry rules for the Open, potentially complicating the pathway for LIV golfers to play in one in every of the world’s most prestigious events. Other major tournaments could respond similarly.

That is probably not all that relevant to the Saudi fund, which surprised some observers with its decision to take a position in golf, consuming money that might have gone toward other objectives.

On the very least, Westphal suggested, the Saudis could have chosen a sport with broader appeal.

That Trump would turn to sports for business or attention shouldn’t be recent.

After a failed bid to affix the ranks of N.F.L. owners within the Nineteen Eighties, he controlled a team in the US Football League, which quickly folded.

As president, he entered debates over players kneeling throughout the national anthem and clashed with the soccer star Megan Rapinoe. He placed a specific deal with college football, attending some games and lobbying the Big Ten Conference to play the 2020 season it had initially canceled due to coronavirus pandemic. Trump went so far as to supply the Big Ten federal support to check athletes and others, the conference’s commissioner has said. The league rejected the offer, but Trump later claimed, without evidence, during a debate, that he had “brought back Big Ten football.”

After leaving the White House, Trump attended a World Series game and, seated removed from where former President Jimmy Carter has been spotted in the identical stadium, joined Atlanta’s “tomahawk chop” chant, which Native American groups have ceaselessly criticized as racist.

But Trump has had a thorny relationship with golf, his favorite sport and one which overlapped together with his pursuit of tax deductions. He won the endorsement of Jack Nicklaus, has hosted stars like Ernie Els and Gary Player for rounds and presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Player, Woods and Annika Sorenstam.

Tournament organizers have kept greater distance. The R&A has not awarded an Open to Turnberry since Trump’s company assumed control of it in 2014, though the event had been played there 4 times. (As president, Trump urged his ambassador to London to pressure the British government on the matter.)

The P.G.A. of America, which is separate from the PGA Tour that has battled so harshly with the breakaway golfers, decided before Trump became president that it could host the P.G.A. Championship at Bedminster in 2022. But after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the group abandoned its plan and moved the tournament to Oklahoma. The P.G.A. of America later reached a settlement with the Trump Organization.

Many observers regard the choice to host the Saudi-backed series as an effort at retaliation, if a somewhat misdirected one that might exact a political cost. For Republicans who’ve pressed Biden to take a tough line against the crown prince, LIV Golf’s presence at Trump’s courses could prove unwelcome distractions, and strategists have apprehensive about how voters could respond this fall.

Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, did circuitously criticize Trump, but said in an interview that it was inappropriate to “prop up” the Saudi series “within the shadow of ground zero at Bedminster.” On television later, he questioned whether LIV Golf’s representatives should register with the Justice Department as agents of a foreign government.

“You don’t must look any further than former President Trump, who in hawking LIV Golf coming to Bedminster, is out saying, oh, hey, that is great publicity for Saudi Arabia,” Roy said on Fox Business.

A number of the fiercest criticism is coming from families of the Sept. 11 victims, who complain that Trump had previously given voice to their misgivings about Saudi Arabia, only to reverse course once his family stood to profit.

“Trump is the previous head of state,” said Eagleson, whose group is planning a protest on Friday. “He’s the previous strongest person on this planet. You’re presupposed to have a set of morals.”

In a press release this week, a LIV Golf spokeswoman, Jane MacNeille, said that the series had been “intent on booking the highest courses in top markets” and that “Bedminster was pleased to have LIV.”

On Wednesday morning, Trump said that he had arrived for the tournament. He immediately began promoting the event and, for the players, the cash at stake.

Bill Pennington contributed reporting.

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