Skip to main content
opinion
Open this photo in gallery:

South Africa's Charl Schwartzel of the Stinger team celebrates on the podium after winning the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational, on June 11, 2022.PAUL CHILDS/Reuters

For a full day now, the usual commentators have been working themselves into a froth painting the proposed partnership between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour as another fifth horseman of the apocalypse.

(How many fifth horsemen are we up to now? Two, three hundred?)

“The perfect union of the Tour’s lack of principle and LIV’s paucity of character,” the New York Times called it on Wednesday. It’s a good line that captures the general tone of high dudgeon.

However, it would seem to suggest that principle and character can be found in abundance elsewhere in sport.

Where, exactly, would that be? What is this great supply of dignity and morality that the inclusion of LIV on our holy golf courses will now be desecrating?

It’s not any of the pro sports. Or the World Cup. Or the Olympics. Or anything you’d bother turning on. If you can watch it on TV, it doesn’t have principles. What it has are interests.

It’s not as though the rest of us are any better, especially the people complaining about it. Do you heat your house with gas? Are you sure none of it came from the Gulf? Then you are the PGA Tour, only poorer with less hand-eye co-ordination.

If most of us shouldn’t complain, sports and the people who play it professionally are in a deficit position in that regard. About everything. That doesn’t stop them.

Sports as a monolith now releases more policy positions than the Comintern. Something happened somewhere? Someone in sports has a feeling about it that they’d like to share with you.

Maybe they’ll wear specially coloured batting gloves one day a year to let you know that they are at the forefront of change, while also earning more per annum than every resident of a Rust Belt town combined.

Every time I hear a warning about climate change from an athlete or athletic organization, I feel a powerful need to scream, “How did you get here? Did you take the charter or ride the bus? Because if it’s the first thing, your stated position makes no sense.”

All four major leagues are routinely afflicted with scandals too numerous and varied to detail here without turning this entire section of the newspaper into one long list.

A small example – a couple of years ago, after the disappearance of one of their colleagues, the WTA made a great show of breaking up with China. Peng Shuai is still a ghost, but this year, the WTA went slinking back.

If a friend did this to you, you wouldn’t be friends any more. But most of us will still watch Wimbledon.

Once this happens over and over without effect, what has everyone learned? That what you do doesn’t matter as long as everyone else does the same.

This isn’t a failing that needs correcting. It’s a way of life. It’s government, and the manner of our discourse, and the quality and content of our other entertainments.

Why do we live in debased times? Because we debased them. The Saudis are just paying to get in on the action.

They aren’t corrupting us. We corrupted them. We put everything up for sale and – surprise surprise – they’d like to go shopping.

To stop now and have an argument now about how our pristine cultural products are being dirtied up by a few bad actors and their love of filthy lucre sounds like the plot of a mid-20th-century propaganda film.

We frame this conversation as a debate about politics. It isn’t. It’s a whinge about money, and who gets to have it.

It’s a whinge, first of all, because all our discussing of it will have no impact on outcomes. We accept that up front.

There was a point at which corporations – especially ones involved in selling entertainment – were highly reactive to a public mauling. Not any more.

Sports has learned a lot of things in recent decades. The most important is that their customers are a) dishonest with themselves and b) have nothing better to do.

They say they won’t put up with X and Y any more. My inbox is regularly filled with such promises. But the numbers aren’t bottoming out. The arenas are full. The sponsors continue to line up.

They could be out there sacrificing goats at centre ice during the pregame skate and people would say to themselves, ‘I won’t stand for it, but I also have nothing better to do on Saturday night. So …’

What the Saudis understand about us is that we love complaining, we hate change and that anything and anybody can be bought. We have a limitless capacity to forgive in ourselves those faults we find everywhere in others.

Without ever having to form a cabal, sports as a whole instinctively understands how to manipulate this disconnect.

This week, it’s golf gone wrong. That gives everyone a focus. There are the bad men. Get them.

Next week, some other outrage will be perpetrated by the IOC or the owners of Manchester United soccer club or some all-star nitwit waving a gun around in a strip joint.

More outrage. More promises to make a difference. Same result.

As long as the arrow isn’t pointing at any one person or league for too long, nothing need ever change. The trick is to keep the wheel spinning. As long as everyone’s willing to have their turn, it works.

The only thing that could ruin this now – one principled actor. One league that is willing to take a reasonable amount for itself, and give the rest away. One league that won’t accept sponsorship money because, in doing so, you endorse whatever product your sponsor is selling. You can’t run gambling ads and be against the worst parts of gambling. But here we are.

Does anybody believe that one principled actor – one that would need to include all the owners, all the executives, all the players – could exist? Never mind does exist. Could exist.

No. No one believes that. It’s laughable even to suggest it.

That’s why the Saudis knew they could buy golf, and anything else they’d care to.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe