LIV Golf doesn’t just want big names on the course.
According to a New York Times report, the Saudi Arabia-backed circuit “considered assembling an all-star board of business, sports, legal and political titans” including the likes of NBA legend Michael Jordan, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well as business executives Ginni Rometty (former IBM chief executive), Randall Stephenson (former AT&T chairman) and Mark Parker (Nike executive chairman).
“I didn’t know I was on the list, and I have never been approached,” Stephenson said to the Times. A board member for the PGA Tour, Stephenson said he’d decline if LIV asked, noting that “it would be a quick conversation.”
A player handbook said a LIV board would include 10 members, but the Times reported nine of those identified as targets had never been approached.
The findings came from a larger Times article that analyzed hundreds of confidential documents from Project Wedge, a proposal conducted for Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The PIF is governed by Yasir al-Rumayyan, who also serves as chairman of the Saudi Arabian Golf Federation, English Premier League team Newcastle United and Saudi Aramco, the state-owned petroleum company which serves as a sponsor for the Ladies European Tour.
With the PIF as its monetary backer, LIV Golf has long been criticized as a way for the Kingdom to sports wash its human rights record. Saudi Arabia has been accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses, including politically motivated killings, torture, forced disappearances and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Not to mention, members of the royal family and Saudi government were accused of involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist.
Experts told the Times that Saudi Arabia’s $2 billion investment shows the Kingdom “has aspirations beyond the financial.”
“The margins might be thin, but that doesn’t really matter,” Simon Chadwick, a professor of sport and geopolitical economy at Skema Business School in Paris, said to the Times. “Because subsequently you’re establishing the legitimacy of Saudi Arabia — not just as an event host or a sporting powerhouse, but legitimate in the eyes of decision makers and governments around the world.”
McKinsey & Company, a longtime Saudi adviser dating back to the 1970s, analyzed the finances of a new golf league and deemed LIV to be “a high-risk high-reward endeavor.” The Times also reported a McKinsey document that detailed 12 top players targeted by LIV. Only four – Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson – have signed so far.
A day after Tiger Woods unloaded on LIV’s leadership and called for CEO Greg Norman to lose his job, LIV recently announced part of its schedule for 2023, where 12 teams and 48 individuals will compete for a total of $405 million in prize purses. Rosters for the new season, the first as the re-branded LIV Golf League, have yet to be finalized.