Golf, Saudi money and sportswashing

Human rights and professional sport

Sir, – This week Leaving Cert students studying for the upcoming economics exam were gifted a real-life microeconomics case study of monopolies, market competition and mergers in the golf tour market.

For years, the PGA Tour has enjoyed an almost monopoly position, being the tour for elite professional golfers (it successfully battled off the attempts of a new market entrant “World Golf Tour” back in 1994).

From the PGA Tour’s perspective, market dominance was great and in 2021 alone it reported $1.59 billion in revenue, despite non-profit status (think profit maximisation).

In June 2022, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund launched LIV Golf – a tour which would act as a direct competitor with the PGA Tour (think new market entrant – oligopolies make less profit than monopolies). In response, the PGA Tour issued harsh punishments on any PGA players who played in the LIV Tour, banning defectors from their tour (think vertical restraints).


This competition was visibly hurting the PGA Tour, with advertisers allegedly threatening to reduce sponsorship.

Rather than engage in a race to the bottom (think perfect competition), the competitors decided instead to merge into a single entity, securing once again a monopoly position in the golf tour sector.

What does this show us?

That opinions on sportswashing and potential human, civil and political rights violations are easily set aside on the quest for market dominance and monopoly profits.

Good luck to all in the exams. – Yours, etc,


(Non-golfing economist),

Dublin 4.

Sir, – The very idea of sportswashing is predicated on what seems at best an anachronism, that is the belief that involvement in particular activities connotes ethical rectitude. We are surely long past the point where any expectation of integrity or moral decency in the realms of professional sport belongs in the “triumph of optimism over experience category”. And yet, much like advertising, presumably if it didn’t work people would stop doing it. Those surprised by the merger of the erstwhile rival golf tours should remember Charles Barkley’s honest observation “I’m not a role model. Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids”. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Regarding “McIlroy backs Saudi-funded golf tour merger” (News, June 8th), I feel that to say he backs the merger is a simplistic statement, as he doesn’t have much choice but to go along. The only other option he has is to retire from playing professional golf altogether, as the new golf tour will be the only show in town.

You would have to feel sympathy for Rory McIlroy, as he strongly backed the PGA in the past year, only for a deal to be done without his knowledge, leaving him and other pro-PGA golfers to face the flak.

Watching him answer questions on the merger in the past couple of days, it seems obvious that he was totally blindsided by the merger announcement, and I feel sympathy for the position in which he has been placed. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.