Equality or circumstance: Should women face same Saudi backlash as men?

Ronan MacNamara

Image by LET. Pictured (L-R) are Frida Gustafsson Spang, Isabella Deilert, Victoria Fricot, Rachel Drummond, Amy Boulden, Carly Booth and Camilla Lennarth

Ronan MacNamara

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Hands up, who knew that the Ladies European Tour was stopping off in Saudi Arabia this week?

Well, it is. There has been little to no coverage or criticism of it this week and one has to question if women are striving for equality in sport in terms of wages and facilities etc, shouldn’t they expect the same level of scrutiny as their male counterparts for playing in the Aramco Saudi Ladies International?

The Saudi International on the Asian Tour was played a fortnight ago which was, as expected, a LIV Golf fest although Cameron Young, Lucas Herbert and Cameron Champ caught the eye when they were granted releases to tee it up at Royal Greens.

Before LIV caused a civil war in the men’s game of golf, the Saudi International was a huge event on the DP World Tour with several high profile PGA Tour stars pencilled in to play. An event that has been good to Irish golf, counting Graeme McDowell as a former champion.

The scrutiny and criticism was there then, but seems to have slipped under the radar from the female point of view. Why? Well from an enjoyment aspect, women’s golf is just as good as the men’s. It’s different but that doesn’t make it better or worse.

In saying that, from a commercial and spectator standpoint, the women’s game isn’t as big, hence why the Saudi Ladies event has slipped under the radar – they’ll do well to get 100 fans through the gates all week.

The ignorance of the media around the event could be deemed hypocritical in terms of not spinning a web of criticism and uproar over high-profile players playing in this event.

But there is another angle…

As far as the men are concerned, these are already multi, multi millionaires, some by the hundreds, who had a choice. It was their choice to play in Saudi Arabia for the Saudi International, in other cases it was the choice of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau to join LIV Golf instead of sticking around the PGA Tour to compete for similar prize funds.

They didn’t need the money, but they took it. These players are set for life, they need not have worried if they woke up one morning and found their golf game had deserted them, they had made enough already.

Jon Rahm has eclipsed $40 million in PGA TOUR earnings and on a smaller scale, the (up to recently) journeyman career of Seamus Power has tipped the $10 million mark.

Leona Maguire, who is playing in Saudi this week, won her maiden LPGA Tour title last year, finished inside the top-10 of the season-long race to CME Globe and ended the year 11th in the world.

Yet she only earned $1.8 million for her fabulous performances. Now compare that to Scottie Scheffler who earned over $2 million for winning in Phoenix last week…

While the morals of some of the leading male players are rightly questioned, the circumstances are different for women. The $5 million purse is the biggest regular season prize fund outside of the major championships and the CME Group Tour Championship.

The career of one of the elite female golfers is likely to be a shorter one than a journeyman male player due to the fact they might have children, while the financial rewards of the LPGA Tour, and even moreso the LET, are not instantly life-changing. So are they to be begrudged as much as the men for going? Would you begrudge a journeyman male pro who won’t have amassed enough career earnings to be financially stable after their playing career joining LIV?

Even someone like Meghan MacLaren who previously vehemently refused the riches of Saudi money has changed her tune. Famously the Englishwoman withdrew from the First Ladies Saudi International three years ago citing concerns over the country sportswashing its human rights record.

Sportswashing is now sports winning after MacLaren admitted to GolfWeek: “At some point, you have to reconcile. This is my competitive nature and my profession versus how do I want to live my life? What do I want to stand up for? You have a voice to a certain point, but also, the better golfer I am and the more recognizable golfer I am, the louder I can use that voice.”

The voice of reason silenced by zeros, but can you blame her?

The establishment of LIV Golf has not broken the PGA Tour and has arguably made it better but the women’s game lies in an extremely vulnerable position if it were to be enticed by Saudi advances.

It is rumoured that LIV are going to try and venture into the LPGA Tour in the future and while the signing on bonuses would not be as lucrative as some of the men’s cheques, if $20 million was thrown at the likes of Leona, Nelly, Charley Hull and co, it would be a no brainer to accept it.

While the likes of Dustin, Brooks, Bryson, Garcia and others don’t need the ridiculous offers that originally enticed them to join, some of the leading LPGA Tour players might not amass $20 million in their playing career.

Financially, the LPGA and LET would be incredibly vulnerable to being PIF pocketed, but the players would be almost foolish not to take the money.

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