Keith Pelley, the European Tour Commissioner, has announced the tour would play again in Saudi Arabia in 2020. The country’s human rights record in general and four months after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi the American-based Saudi journalist in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey in October, some people thought it inappropriate the European Tour staged a new tournament in the Middle East nation.
Canadian Pelley told Reuters that it was the right decision for their tour and they would be back in Saudi and will continue to grow that event. They believe their role will help the evolution of the country.
The European Tour visits remain very much in the shadow of its behemoth U.S. counterpart, where most of the top Europeans play the majority of their golf from February through June, and in August. Former PGA Tour winner Brandel Chamblee, now a Golf Channel analyst, was among the most outspoken critics of playing in Saudi Arabia.
He said by participating with the players, they were a ventriloquist for this abhorrent regime. That criticism notwithstanding, the tournament went ahead with a $3.5 million purse as well as hefty appearance fees that lured the likes of top Americans Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, Englishman Justin Rose and Spaniard Sergio Garcia.
The 55-year-old European Tour chief since 2015, Pelley, said that he had no doubts in stating that the Saudi International will be on the schedule again next year. He gave examples of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mariah Carey as celebrities who have visited the country since Khashoggi’s murder.
Pelley pointed out that he went over there first and listened to his Excellency Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at a sports conference, talked about how the country wanted to change, needed to change, wanted to use sports as a catalyst, was committed to golf.
Pelley did not directly answer the question of whether any country’s human rights record would prevent a visit from the European Tour, saying the safety of players and tour staff was the first factor considered. He said they would look at where they would be playing, and after that, a person would evaluate and go through a bunch of different things.