Players don't need chastising – they need educating
Carly Booth plastered a photo of herself and her new bag sponsor all over social media this week.
Nothing new about that, but this caused her some bother. You see, Booth has teamed up with the Saudi Arabia Golf Federation. And, if you haven’t heard, the Saudis have questionable human rights – particularly towards women – and remain decades behind the western world in this respect.
The Twitter post read:
I am honoured to represent @Golf_Saudi as they acknowledge that women in sport is of paramount importance. Although culturally they are in a different place to some countries, they are doing everything they can to introduce girls and women into sport and lead healthy lifestyles.
It was accompanied by a photo of Booth grinning next to her new emblazoned bag:
Booth has, as you’d expect, faced a backlash on this announcement – which almost certainly wasn’t written by her but her management and has now been deleted.
On first reading, Booth glossing over it as “cultural differences” is nothing short of gross. Cultural differences is things like what food you eat, not forbidding someone to be able to drive because they have a womb, or cutting off someone’s head for disagreeing with your political agenda. Indeed, on the same day of Booth’s social media posts, 37 people, including a 16-year-old student, were murdered by the regime. And need I remind you of the horrific death inflicted on journalist Jamal Khashoggi in December?
Booth’s post makes light of a situation that is far worse than I suspect she can even imagine, while from the Saudi Arabia Golf Federation perspective this is nothing short of a PR stunt that is doing the bare minimum to improve its country’s image.
While it’s easy to sympathise on the money front – there is simply not enough in the women’s game – Booth has just shy of £300,000 in the bank from her LET career, and you can probably double that with sponsorship deals. Did Booth, or her management, really need to get in a position that, in 24 hours, seems to have done immeasurable damage to her image?
My only answer is she simply doesn’t understand the magnitude of the horrors that go on in Saudi Arabia.
We recently had a situation involving Wayne Hennessey, a 32-year-old professional footballer who has spent the majority of his career at the top level, including representing Wales. Hennessey was charged after appearing to make a Nazi salute in photograph while out at dinner with team-mates. The goalkeeper pleaded not guilty as well as ignorance, saying he didn’t have any knowledge of the Nazi regime or its atrocities.
While most didn’t believe that this was possible – everyone learns about the second World War at school, surely? – we have to accept that some people simply don’t understand.
There was, and rightly so, a similarly fierce backlash against the European Tour stars playing the inaugural Saudi International in January. The likes of Paul Casey and Matt Fitzpatrick dodged it, but Dustin Johnson, who won the event, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau were among the array of players happy to accept the huge appearance fees and then play dumb afterwards.
On a similar level of naivety to Booth’s “cultural differences” gaffe, one player told BBC Sport: “I believe the country as a whole is becoming a bit more liberal, with females being able to drive and that sort of thing.”
In the same interview, Ian Poulter says he’s “probably not the most educated man in the world to sit down and have a discussion about politics” before adding that he doesn’t get involved because, quote, “my IQ is not great”.
So perhaps instead of annihilating these players on social media, it’s time to try and educate them about why they are facing such criticism.
It’s OK to not fully understand a situation. It’s not OK to take the money then make excuses afterwards – especially players who already have more in the bank than they’ll ever be able to spend.
And would education work? Probably not. It’s nearly impossible to get through to someone about the reasons they should be boycotting countries like Saudi Arabia when the world’s second largest golf tour is happy to host events in them.
This needs to start from the top.