Major controversies rocking both the sports world and international relations are coming together this week at Donald Trump’s New Jersey Golf Club, with the former president stepping in the middle of the drama.
From Friday, the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster will host the third event of LIV Golf, the new Saudi-backed professional tour that has rocked the sport’s main professional organizer, the PGA Tour, by withdrawing marquee golfers with larger, guaranteed paydays. .
Heading into this weekend’s tournament, Trump has been promoting the event in interviews and public statements, encouraging golfers to join LIV Golf and disparaging the PGA Tour.
“Just arrived in Bedminster for the big LIV Tour golf tournament,” he posted on Truth Social, the social media site he started, on Wednesday. “Record money to the winners, great excitement. Come on Friday, Saturday or Sunday to watch the big game of the best players!”
Trump is enjoying his professional relationship with LIV Golf, especially after PGA of America officials stripped the 2022 PGA Championship from Bedminster following the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol. In October, LIV Golf will host its final competition of the year at another Trump property, Trump National Doral, in South Florida.
But while activists, media and others have expressed concern that LIV Golf lends international legitimacy to the ruling regime in Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of human rights abuses for years, Trump dismissed these criticisms.
During an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, he spoke approvingly of how the golf tour, which is being funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, has already boosted the kingdom’s reputation.
“I think LIV has been good for Saudi Arabia, for Saudi Arabia’s image,” Trump told the Journal.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to questions from CNN.
Human rights and media groups have questioned LIV Golf organizers and players about the tour’s connection to Saudi Arabia. Many of those questions focused on the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
A US intelligence report released last year determined that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman approved the operation to capture or kill the Saudi journalist, confirming reports shortly after the killing that the CIA had pulled the trigger. same conclusion. During his presidency, however, Trump publicly downplayed allegations that bin Salman was involved as his administration deepened US ties with the Saudis.
But the LIV Golf event in Bedminster has also raised the ire of some survivors and families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Speaking at a press conference near Bedminster on Tuesday, Terry Strada, president of 9/11 Families United, said the group was “appalled” by the “offensive, disrespectful and hurtful” tournament at Trump’s club, which is only 80 km from the site. of the 2001 bombing in New York. Strada said she was “very disappointed” in Trump, but noted that he was not the primary target of the group’s criticism.
In an interview with ESPN at his club on Thursday, Trump reiterated that he has been “friends” with people in Saudi Arabia for a “long time”.
“Honestly, what they do for golf is amazing. What they are doing for the players is great,” said the former president.
Asked what he would say to the families of 9/11 victims protesting the LIV Golf event, Trump seemed to question whether there was any knowledge of Saudi involvement in the terror attacks.
“Nobody got to the bottom of the events of 9/11, unfortunately, and they should have, as to the maniacs who did this horrible thing to our city, to our country, to the world,” he said. . “So nobody really went there. But I can tell you there are a lot of really great people here today.
Following Trump’s remarks, Strada told CNN that the former president “knows full well it was the Kingdom. He did everything in his power to protect the kingdom during his tenure by reneging on the promise that he told the 9/11 families to declassify FBI reports regarding Saudi involvement in 9/11.
The new circuit has drawn criticism from the PGA Tour, which has suspended players who have signed with LIV Golf, as well as some of golf’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. LIV Golf’s lure of the sport’s top athletes — including bigger purses and guaranteed payouts — threatens the dominance of the PGA Tour and appears to have caught the legacy organization off guard.
Trump himself seems to appreciate the damage done to the PGA Tour, with which he has had a difficult relationship. While its clubs have held events for the PGA and other professional golf events in the past, the PGA Tour has not hosted an event at a Trump property since a March 2016 tournament in Doral. And after stripping Bedminster of the 2022 PGA Championship, the organization has been squarely in Trump’s sights.
“All of those golfers who remain ‘faithful’ to the very treacherous PGA, in all its various guises, will pay a heavy price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV arrives, and you’ll get nothing but a big ‘thank you’ PGA officials who make millions of dollars a year,” Trump wrote last week in an article on Truth Social. “If you don’t take the money now, you won’t get anything post-merger and won’t say than the intelligence of the original signatories.”
This isn’t the first time Trump has spoken about professional sports since entering politics. During his presidency, he frequently criticized the National Football League for allowing players to protest during the national anthem. And last year, Trump joined other Republicans in calling on Americans to boycott Major League Baseball after the league moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta following a new election law in Georgia. .
This story has been updated with additional reaction.