Former Irish Open winner Paul Casey insists a desire to be open-minded coupled with Saudi Arabia’s commitment to using sport as a medium for change prompted him to enter next February’s third edition of the 2021 Saudi International.
The Englishman, along with fellow Irish Open winner Rory McIlroy, each chose not to attend both the 2019 and this year’s event over concerns with regards to the country’s human rights record. The European Tour hosted its maiden event in Saudi Arabia last year against a backdrop of criticism over the choice of venue in the wake of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as the kingdom’s human rights record.
Casey, a UNICEF ambassador, previously suggested he would be a “hypocrite” if he signed a deal to play in Saudi Arabia, whom human rights campaigners have accused of ‘sportswashing’ by using events to create a positive image. However, the now 43-year old and winner of 20 events around the globe including 16 on the European Tour, has had a change of heart.
“This isn’t a decision I’ve taken lightly. I wasn’t comfortable going in the past, but I’ve always been open-minded and willing to learn,” Casey told Reuters. “I believe sport has the power to affect change. I’ve listened to the Saudi commitment to this and their vision for the future.”
Saudi Arabia hosted two professional golf tournaments for women for the first time this month even as women’s rights remain a contentious issue in the west Asian country.
“They have successfully hosted two professional ladies tournaments which shows that Golf Saudi have big plans not only for professional golf, but more so for grassroots and the next generation,” Casey added.
“It’s always better to include rather than exclude when eliciting change… I hope my participation will make a difference. I’m looking forward to seeing these changes in person.”
Casey will be joined by fellow European Ryder Cup members Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood with Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell the defending champion of the 4th to 7th February starting event at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.