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Golfers branded ‘stooges’ for Saudi sportswashing as Amnesty hit back at Graeme McDowell

Human rights group hits back after golfer said he wasn’t trying to solve the world’s problems

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Graeme McDowell lines up a putt on the 18th green during the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor

Graeme McDowell lines up a putt on the 18th green during the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor

AP

Graeme McDowell lines up a putt on the 18th green during the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor

Amnesty International has hit back at criticism from Graeme McDowell as the row over the golfer’s support for the controversial LIV Golf Series continues.

The human rights organisation said while it acknowledged golfers were not politicians, that “doesn’t mean they should act like the willing stooges of Saudi sportswashing either”.

Earlier this week, the Ulsterman criticised a story in the Belfast Telegraph in which Amnesty hit out at him for backing the Saudi-backed series.

The Saudi regime has been accused of widespread human rights abuses and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr McDowell said Amnesty’s criticism of him was “unfair” and that he was “not trying to solve the world’s issues”.

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“How am I supposed to respond to Amnesty International?” he asked. “That’s called fighting a losing battle. It’s ridiculous. It’s just golf.”

Responding to the golfer yesterday, Amnesty UK head of priority campaigns Felix Jakens said: “What we said about the golfers who played at the LIV event last month was that it had been extremely disappointing to hear some of them attempting to play down concerns over Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record.

“Contrary to the rhetoric coming from some Saudi-funded sporting quarters, Saudi Arabia has become more repressive in recent years, not less.

“Human rights defenders and peaceful critics have been locked up, torture in jails is rife and mass executions have shocked the world.

“Sportswashing is a crude PR device, and it can be rendered much less effective if high-profile sporting figures use their platforms to speak out about human rights.

“We’d genuinely like to hear Graeme McDowell and other top golfers speaking up for Saudi Arabia’s beleaguered human rights community.

“A bit of solidarity can go a long way in this respect.”

Barry Magee, the captain at Rathmore Golf Club, where McDowell took up the sport at around the age of eight, defended the Portrush man, saying that he had “always been a great ambassador” for his club. 

He also commended the 42-year-old for his “very frank and honest interview” and stressed that Mr McDowell did not support the Saudi regime.

Mr Magee added: “He was quite open and said it was a business decision that he made for his family. From that point of view, I think he’s looking at it objectively.

“He’s been frank and I fully support what he’s done based on his reasons for doing it.

“He’s had a lot of vitriol in the media recently, but he’s not denying it — he’s been quite open about it.”

Separately, Rory McIlroy said yesterday he believed the breakaway series would force the PGA and DP World Tours to “adapt and change” in the long run.

The world number two added: “In the long term, it will make the game better. It will force the tours to adapt and change.

“[It will] make the product better and focus on maybe the fan engagement side of things and maybe some stuff they’ve been neglecting over the years.

“Right now it’s messy, but I think in the long term it’ll all sort itself out. 

“Right now there’s this disruption that’s happening, and with that comes forced change.

“I think this has just forced the tour’s hands a little bit. They have to adapt and change, and I think that’s what they’re going to try and have to do.” 


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