Several Oregon officials spoke out Sunday ahead of the first LIV Golf event scheduled for the state later this week, criticizing the golf circuit's connection to the Saudi Arabian government.
The LIV Golf Invitational Series will host its second event, and first in the United States, starting on Thursday at the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, located west of Portland. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden called out the event over the numerous issues surrounding the new controversial league, including the hit-and-run death of Fallon Smart in 2016.
A Saudi Arabian student was facing a first-degree murder charge in that case in Oregon when a tracking device was removed and he vanished, something the U.S. government thinks the Saudi Arabian government was behind, Wyden told the Associated Press.
“It’s wrong to be silent when Saudi Arabia tries to cleanse blood-stained hands, in the fight for Oregonians to get justice — Fallon Smart was killed very close to our house in Southeast Portland, and the person charged with the crime, a hit-and-run death, was, based on all the evidence, whisked out of the country by the Saudis before he stood for trial,” Wyden said, via The Associated Press.
Wyden was far from alone in voicing criticism Sunday. North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan was one of 11 mayors from the area to sign a letter officially opposing the tournament.
“We oppose this event because it is being sponsored by a repressive government whose human rights abuses are documented. We refuse to support these abuses by complicity allowing the Saudi-backed organization to play in our backyard,” the letter read, in part.
“We believe that we have a moral obligation to take a stand and speak out against this event in order to protect the people we serve. While our local jurisdictions may not be able to prevent this event, we stand together to voice our concerns about the unwelcomed potential risks, visitors and harm this event could have on our communities.”
This week’s event is one of five the LIV Golf series will hold in the United States this year. The tournament will move next to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, at the end of July. Charl Schwartzel won the first event earlier this month in London.
The Portland-area event is the first that will see several new big names in golf competing, including Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau and more. Matthew Wolff is expected to join this week, too, according to ESPN's Mark Schlabach. It will be played opposite of the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour.
Wyden, who directly accused the Saudi Arabians of sportswashing by launching this new league, and the mayors are also concerned that the event could bring significant protests to North Plains. While ticketed fans are prohibited from displaying political signs inside, there could be protests outside of the venue.
“It’s just a page out of the autocrats’ playbook covering up injustices by misusing athletics in hopes of normalizing their abuses,” Wyden said, via The Associated Press.