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PGA Tour suspends players in Saudi-backed event as golf’s discord deepens

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Professional golf arrived at a crossroads Thursday as an insurgent, Saudi-backed tour teed off on a tree-lined course outside London and the PGA Tour suspended the players who had defected, turning what would normally be a sleepy weekday on the golf schedule into one of the strangest and most consequential days in the history of a sport suddenly on the precipice of seismic change.

Having poached players with tens of millions of guaranteed dollars and promised fans more action than traditional tournaments, LIV Golf staged the opening round of its inaugural tournament at the Centurion Club in England amid criticism it was participating in an attempt to cleanse the global reputation of the Saudi Arabian government.

Moments after the first balls flew through the air, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan sent a memo to members from the tour’s Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. headquarters, announcing the tour had suspended the 17 of its players participating in LIV Golf and, with several other stars on the verge of leaving, vowing it would do the same to others.

The Saudi-backed LIV Invitational golf series kicked off its first tournament on June 9, luring several PGA Tour players with large financial rewards. (Video: Reuters)

Everything you need to know about the LIV Golf Invitational Series

The Tour’s immediate and strong response underscored the existential threat LIV Golf presents to the business model around which professional golf revolved from the days of Arnold Palmer through Jack Nicklaus’s prime to Tiger Woods’s reign.

Shepherded into existence by former pro golfer Greg Norman and backed by a Saudi investment fund, LIV Golf attracted a number of PGA Tour stalwarts by offering massive signing bonuses and purses; shorter, no-cut events; a lighter schedule; and guaranteed prize money and appearance fees that are foreign to almost every form of professional golf. The rebel tour has no designs on turning a short-term profit, aiming instead to gain an instant foothold in the sport. It used nine-figure contracts to lure Phil Mickelson — a six-time major winner and one of golf’s most familiar faces, who infamously referred to the Saudis as “scary mother——-” in an interview with his biographer — and Dustin Johnson, two of the game’s greatest players.

The PGA Tour has argued to its players that moving to LIV Golf will cost them stability and legacy. LIV Golf can offer guaranteed money on par with athletes in other sports, even if many believe the money is tainted by atrocities of a repressive Saudi government.

The insurgent players will compete initially in an eight-event series around the globe. Two tournaments, including the season finale, will be played at courses owned by former president Donald Trump, whose courses the PGA Tour has distanced itself from. With a handful of players, including major winners Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau, expected to jump to LIV Golf by its next tournament June 30 in Portland, Ore., the series is threatening to reconfigure the order of a mannerly sport.

“It’s a shame that it’s going to fracture the game,” star Rory McIlroy, perhaps the most vociferous defender of the PGA Tour, told reporters Wednesday at a news conference before the Canadian Open. “The professional game is the window shop into golf. If the general public are confused about who is playing where and what tournament’s on this week and who is, you know, ‘Oh, he plays there, okay, and he doesn’t get into these events.’ It just becomes so confusing. I think everything needs to try to become more cohesive, and I think it was on a pretty good trajectory until this happened.”

Players who join LIV will likely face the same thorny questions their peers did this week, when golfers deflected reporters’ inquiries about the Saudi government’s alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other human rights concerns.

Norther Ireland’s Graeme McDowell said in a news conference that “the Khashoggi situation” was “reprehensible,” but that he believed LIV Golf could be a positive force.

Dustin Johnson quits PGA, joins Phil Mickelson on Saudi-backed tour

“I just try to be a great role model to kids,” McDowell said. “We are not politicians. I know [reporters] hate that expression, but we are really not, unfortunately. We are professional golfers.”

That stance, experts say, is exactly what the Saudis want as they seek to change the subject from alleged human rights violations.

“The Saudis want normality. They want to be seen as supporters of a game that a lot of people like to watch and play. They’ll therefore expect the players to behave much as they would do in any other tournament,” said University of Sussex politics professor Dan Hough, who specializes in integrity and corruption in sports. “It’ll be much more a case of talking positively about the tournament they are involved in from a golfing perspective.”

In his memo to PGA Tour players, Monahan pointedly referred to LIV Golf as the “Saudi Golf League” and called LIV Golf participants “players who have decided to turn their backs on the PGA Tour.”

“These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons,” Monahan wrote. “But they can’t demand the same PGA TOUR membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you. That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners.”

Monahan told players he is certain fans and sponsors “are tired of all this talk of money, money and more money.” But the tour has attempted to assuage players with its own financial incentives. It has raised purses, enhanced end-of-season bonus money and introduced the Player Impact Program, which funnels money to stars based on a combination of performance and off-course promotion.

The tour, though, cannot compete financially with the deep pockets of LIV Golf or its guaranteed money for appearances, which violates the PGA Tour’s entrenched pay-for-performance ethos. Its best appeal may be the promise of playing in non-tour events such as the four majors, the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, which is scheduled for September. The organizations that run those events have not offered definitive decisions on how to deal with the breakaway players.

Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed reportedly will join Saudi-backed LIV Golf

The United States Golf Association, which runs the U.S. Open, said this week it will allow players who have already qualified to play next week in Brookline, Mass. PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, whose organization runs the PGA Championship, said last month that he didn’t think LIV Golf was “good for the game” and that his group supported golf’s current “ecosystem.”

The PGA Tour also recognizes it could receive a legal challenge from the suspended players, backed by LIV. Mickelson, who took a months-long, self-imposed exile after his controversial comments surfaced, has said he intends to keep the lifetime exemption his performance earned him.

“You probably have more questions,” Monahan wrote in his Thursday memo to players. “What’s next? Can these players come back? Can they eventually play PGA Tour Champions [the tour’s senior circuit]? Trust that we’ve prepared to deal with those questions …”

Meanwhile, the new league — whose LIV name refers to the Roman numeral of its 54-hole events and rhymes with “give” — struck a cheery tone during its first round. Without a traditional television deal, it was streamed on YouTube, Facebook and the LIV website. The event began with a shotgun start, placing threesomes at every tee box on the course as men in Beefeater outfits blew an opening horn.

“I feel so happy for the players. I feel so happy that we’ve brought free agency to golf,” Norman said as the first broadcast began.

Said Johnson: “I’m just excited to get it started. It’s a new chapter for golf. The fans are going to love it, all the players who are here are going to love it.”

But in a statement released by LIV Golf with the first round underway, the crisis roiling this sport was laid bare.

“Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and it deepens the divide between the Tour and its members,” the statement said, in part. “ … This certainly is not the last word on this topic.”

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PGA Tour suspends LIV golfers from all events

PGA Tour suspends LIV golfers from all events

The PGA Tour has suspended the 17 members who are competing in the inaugural LIV Golf International Series event, it announced Thursday.

Players who resigned their membership before starting the LIV Golf event being held outside London that began Thursday are also no longer eligible to compete in tour events or the Presidents Cup.

“These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan wrote in a memo to the tour’s membership. “But they can’t demand the same PGA TOUR membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you. That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners. You have made a different choice, which is to abide by the Tournament Regulations you agreed to when you accomplished the dream of earning a PGA TOUR card and — more importantly — to compete as part of the preeminent organization in the world of professional golf.”

The memo said players who compete in LIV events are ineligible to participate on the PGA Tour or any other tours it sanctions, including the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Champions, PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

Monahan wrote that any players who take part in future LIV Golf events will face the same punishment.

“I am certain our fans and partners — who are surely tired of all this talk of money, money and more money — will continue to be entertained and compelled by the world-class competition you display each and every week, where there are true consequences for every shot you take and your rightful place in history whenever you reach that elusive winner’s circle,” Monahan wrote.

“You are the PGA TOUR, and this moment is about what we stand for: the PGA TOUR membership as a whole. It’s about lifting up those who choose to not only benefit from the TOUR, but who also play an integral role in building it. I know you are with us, and vice versa. Our partners are with us, too. The fact that your former TOUR colleagues can’t say the same should be telling.”

LIV Golf, in a statement, called the PGA Tour’s punishment “vindictive” and said it “deepens the divide between the Tour and its members.”

“It’s troubling that the Tour, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity blocking golfers from playing,” LIV Golf said. “This certainly is not the last word on this topic. The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond.”

The PGA Tour announced the discipline less than 30 minutes after 17 of its members or former members who resigned from the tour in the past week hit their opening tee shots in the inaugural LIV Golf event at Centurion Club outside London.

Among them were six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, two-time major champion Dustin Johnson and longtime Ryder Cup participants Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia.

Two other past major winners, 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, have also reached agreements with LIV Golf to compete in future tournaments, sources told ESPN on Wednesday. LIV Golf officials have also had ongoing discussions with other players, including Rickie Fowler and Jason Kokrak.

Johnson and Garcia are among the players who have resigned from the tour, along with 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Kevin Na. The players hoped to avoid punishment from the tour by quitting.

Monahan said the 10 players who have resigned their PGA Tour memberships will be removed from the FedEx Cup points standings after this week’s RBC Canadian Open. He wrote that “these players will not be permitted to play in PGA Tournaments as a non-member via a sponsor exemption” or any other eligibility category.

“This week, the RBC Canadian Open is a shining example of what you have created with the PGA Tour: a star-studded field, a committed sponsor, sold-out hospitality offerings, record crowds and a global broadcast distribution,” Monahan wrote. “These elements are part of the Tour’s DNA, built by the likes of Jack and Arnie, furthered by Tiger and countless others — whose legacies are inextricably linked, with each other and with the PGA Tour. This collective legacy can’t be bought or sold.”

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a former world No. 1 golfer and two-time winner of The Open, has told ESPN in the past that the new circuit was prepared to help its players fight the PGA Tour’s position in court. Norman said he had players who were willing to participate in a legal battle.

“I can only speak on information given to me by our legal team, and I have an extremely talented legal team in antitrust and anticompetitive laws, and we believe we’re in the right position,” Norman said. “We believe the players are independent contractors and have a right to go play wherever they want to go play.”

On May 10, the PGA Tour denied conflicting-event releases to players who had requested them. Monahan had told players several times that they would face punishment for competing in the LIV events without releases.

The first LIV Golf tournament in the United States is scheduled for June 30-July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Oregon.

The LIV Golf series features 54-hole events, shotgun starts, no cuts and a team format. The seven regular-season events — a slate that also includes stops in Bedminster, New Jersey; Boston; and Chicago — are offering $25 million purses, the richest in golf history. The winner gets $4 million, and the last-place finisher gets $120,000. A season-ending team championship, Oct. 27-30 at Trump National Doral in Miami, has a $50 million purse.

According to reports, top players also received signing bonuses from LIV Golf worth more than $100 million.

A longtime PGA Tour player who wasn’t approached about playing in the LIV Golf series told ESPN that he agreed that the tour had to punish the players to prevent others from defecting.

“We’re going to end up in a worse position because these guys wanted a quick money grab to go play in an exhibition,” the player said. “The [Saudis] are going to lose interest eventually. I think we all have a little bit of a responsibility to leave the game better than when we got here, and repping for a shady government with a questionable record isn’t doing that.”

LIV Golf is supported by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Salman has been accused of numerous human rights violations, including the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, speaking at a news conference at the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto on Wednesday, said he was concerned about golf’s future.

“I think it’s a shame that it’s going to fracture the game,” McIlroy said. “I think if anything, the professional game is the window shop into golf. If the general public are confused about who is playing where and what tournament’s on this week and, OK, he doesn’t get into these events, it just becomes so confusing. I think everything needs to try to become more cohesive, and I think it was on a pretty good trajectory until this happened.”

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IBSF suspends Russia and Belarus from participating at events

The IBSF has banned athletes from Russia and Belarus ©Getty Images

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Manika Batra vs TTFI: Timeline of events after Delhi High Court suspends board

Manika Batra vs TTFI: Timeline of events after Delhi High Court suspends board

In a landslide victory for Indian table tennis star Manika Batra, the Delhi High Court on Friday suspended the Table Tennis Federation of India’s (TTFI) executive committee and ordered the appointment of an administrator to run its affairs.

Referring to it as a “sorry state of affairs”, the court noted that it was “appalled” by some of the observations of the three-member enquiry committee (constituted in November) regarding the manner in which TTFI and coach Soumyadeep Roy have been functioning. “After having perused the report in case an administrator is not appointed to run the federation by suspending the executive body the court will be failing in its duties towards sportspersons and the general public,” the court said.

It further observed that the Committee concluded a clear conflict of interest in Roy running a private academy despite being national coach.

Following the ruling, Manika said in a statement that she was “forced to approach the court” after being left with no other choice because she was “subjected to undue pressure and ill treatment” which put her into “huge mental agony”.

The Manika vs TTFI case has run for six months, with plenty of twists and rulings. Here’s a brief timeline of the events:

August 4: TTFI decides to issue a show-cause notice to Manika for refusing Roy’s assistance for her singles matches at the Tokyo Olympics. After her personal coach Sanmay Paranjape wasn’t allowed Field of Play (FOP) access at the Games venue, Manika turned down the prospect of Roy being present in her corner for singles matches. She played all her singles matches without a coach by her side and lost in the third round. For her mixed doubles matches along with Sharath Kamal, however, Roy was present.

August 26: In her response to TTFI’s show-cause notice, Manika alleges that she felt it was better to have “no coach at all” than to be “demoralized” by the presence of one who had asked her to “fix a match in favor of his student” fellow Indian player Sutirtha Mukherjee at the Olympic qualifiers in March 2021. She mentioned having then “promptly reported the matter to a TTFI official” and also claims to be in possession of evidence to corroborate her charges.

September 11: To examine the charges, TTFI sets up a five-member enquiry panel. Three of the five are Executive Committee members and it’s headed by the federation’s vice-president Chiranjib Chaudhari.

September 17: TTFI leaves out Manika from the Asian Championships squad on grounds of skipping the mandatory national camp in Sonepat.

September 19: Manika moves Delhi High Court questioning the federation’s rule that stipulates national camp attendance as a prerequisite for tournament selection. In her plea she alleges that the federation was carrying out selections in an unfair manner and targeting certain individuals. She also accuses Roy of pressuring her to concede her match against Sutirtha so “his student” could qualify for the Olympics.

September 20: HC seeks the Centre’s stand on Manika’s plea and asks the sports ministry to inquire into the management of the federation. Justice Rekha Palli gives the government counsel two days to respond to the petition. On the same day, TTFI reconstitutes its enquiry panel, this time with just three members in all, comprising law expert Parth Goswami, TTFI CEO Dhanraj Chaudhary and headed by retired Justice Kailash Gambhir.

September 23: The Court stays TTFI’s rule on mandatory national camp attendance for international tournament selection. Gives Centre four weeks to conduct an enquiry into the match-fixing allegations raised by the player and submit its report. The court also expresses its anguish at the hurried chop and change by TTFI of its enquiry panel within ten days of constituting it. “They are overreaching the court. I will issue a notice of contempt. I pass an order and you appoint a new person? This is shocking,” Justice Palli said.

In late October, news of the Integrity Unit of sport’s apex body, ITTF looking into Manika’s match-fixing allegations emerged. The Hindu reported on October 27 that among the evidence submitted by TTFI to the world body was a text dated March 19, by Manika’s coach Sanmay to a former player. According to the text reproduced in the report, the coach mentioned “what she (Manika) did for Sutirtha” and that she chose “to help”. It further mentioned a statement from an ITTF Blue Badge Umpire who officiated the Olympic qualifying tournament in Doha and testified that his conversations with Sanmay on the morning of the match between Manika and Sutirtha indicated a foreknowledge that both players would qualify. Had Sutirtha lost that match, her qualification on ranking alone would have been doubtful. Manika went on to lose the match and the result had confirmed Sutirtha’s Tokyo berth.

November 17: Delhi HC directs constitution of a three-member enquiry committee to look into match-fixing allegations leveled by Manika. The three members are — two former Supreme Court judges, Justice Vikramjit Sen and Justice AK Sikri and former athlete Gurbachan Singh Radhawa. The court indicates that based on the committee’s report it would consider appointing an administrator to run the federation. TTFI counsel informs the court that the federation had decided to recall its show-cause notice to Manika along with calling off any further action against her.

February 11: The Court suspends TTFI’s executive committee and orders appointment of administrator stating that TTFI’s conduct “prima facie” appears to be blameworthy as per the report in which the three-member committee observed that the federation has “only been safeguarding the interest of its officials”. “The fact that the court has appointed an administrator and called into question the clear conflict of interest by the coach in question, it’s without doubt that Manika’s plea has been upheld and merit has been found in her allegations,” Manika’s lawyer Akshay Amritanshu said. The court directed the administrator to send a copy of the Committee’s report to the ITTF “so that appropriate action can be taken”.