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    Trump Criticizes PGA Tour and Praises Saudis for Backing LIV Golf

    The former president, who is hosting two LIV Golf events, including one this week at his course in Bedminster, N.J., made the remarks before teeing off in the pro am.BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Donald J. Trump praised the Saudi Arabian backers of a controversial new golf tournament Thursday, calling them his friends, while criticizing the traditional PGA Tour.The former president, wearing a white golf shirt and his signature red baseball cap emblazoned with his familiar campaign slogan, spoke briefly before teeing off in the pro-am segment of the LIV Golf event at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., which he owns.“I’ve known these people for a long time in Saudi Arabia and they have been friends of mine for a long time,” Trump said after taking practice swings on the driving range. “They’ve invested in many American companies. They own big percentages of many, many American companies and frankly, what they are doing for golf is so great, what they are doing for the players is so great. The salaries are going to go way up.”The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the sovereign wealth fund, which is overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In 2018, during Trump‘s presidency, American intelligence officials concluded that Prince Mohammed had authorized the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and journalist with the Washington Post. Trump, who criticized the Saudis on the campaign trail before his election in 2016, resisted their conclusions.The Bedminster club had previously been scheduled to host the P.G.A. Championship in 2022, but the P.G.A. of America moved it to Oklahoma after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, saying that holding it at Bedminster would be “detrimental to the P.G.A. of America brand.” (The P.G.A. of America, which is separate from the PGA Tour, later reached a settlement with the Trump Organization.) Since then, Trump has sided with the upstart golf tour.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    LIV Golf Is Drawing Big Names and Heavy Criticism in Oregon

    As golfers arrive for the $25 million Saudi-backed tournament, a mayor, some 9/11 families, a U.S. senator and some Pumpkin Ridge club members have expressed outrage.NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — The Saudi government-backed LIV Golf Invitational series arrives in the United States on Thursday as it continues to roil a genteel sport with a slogan that promises, “Golf, but louder.” Except this is probably not the kind of noise its supporters had in mind.There is vehement opposition by some to holding the three-day tournament at the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, about 20 miles northwest of Portland. The disapproval has come from politicians, a group of 9/11 survivors and family members, club members who have resigned in protest and at least one outspoken club board member. Critics have decried what they describe as Saudi Arabia’s attempt to use sports to soften the perception in the West of its grim human rights record.Portland is the first of five LIV (a Roman numeral referring to the 54-hole format) tournaments to be held in the United States this year. The newly formed tour, with its lucrative prize money and eight-figure participation fees, has quickly become a threat to the long-established PGA Tour as marquee players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka have joined the Saudi endeavor.The Portland tournament will take place as local fury still simmers from the 2016 death of Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old high school student who was killed while crossing a Portland street by a driver traveling nearly 60 miles an hour. A Saudi community college student, facing felony charges of manslaughter and hit and run for Smart’s death, removed a tracking device and disappeared before trial, returning home apparently with the assistance of Saudi officials.Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, has been insistently seeking justice for Smart and beseeching the White House to hold the Saudis more accountable. He has criticized the LIV golf tournament, which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, as an attempt to cleanse the country’s human rights reputation, a tactic known as sportswashing.Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said the Saudis could not have picked “a more insulting and painful place to hold a golf tournament.”Jason Andrew for The New York Times“No matter how much they cough up, they’re not going to be able to wash away” that reputation, Wyden said in an interview. Referring to Smart’s death, he added, “The Saudis could not have picked a more insulting and painful place to hold a golf tournament.”Teri Lenahan, the mayor of tiny North Plains, population 3,440, has signed a letter with 10 other mayors from the area objecting to the LIV tournament, though they acknowledge they cannot stop it. Some members of Pumpkin Ridge have resigned in protest.Some family members and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have planned a news conference for Thursday to discuss what they called the golfers’ “willing complicity” to take money from a country whose citizenry included 15 of the 19 hijackers.Critics of the tournament note that American intelligence officials concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, ordered the killing and dismemberment of the dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018; that 81 men were executed in Saudi Arabia in a single day in March, calling into question the fairness of its criminal justice system; and that Saudi women did not receive permission to drive until 2018 after a longstanding ban and still must receive permission from a male relative to make many decisions in their lives.“I really felt it was a moral obligation to speak out and say we cannot support this golf tournament because of where the funds are coming from to support it,” Lenahan said in an interview. “The issue is the Saudi government publicly executed people, oppresses women and considers them second-class citizens. And they killed a journalist and dismembered him. It’s disgusting.”Escalante Golf, a Texas firm that owns the Pumpkin Ridge course, did not respond to requests for comment.The LIV tournament will go on, playing out against a backdrop of realpolitik. As a candidate, President Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for the murder of Khashoggi. But Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia in mid-July, seeking, among other things, relief from the oil-rich kingdom for spiking gasoline prices in the United States.In truth, the issue of human rights frequently takes a back seat to financial and marketing concerns in the realm of international sports. China, for instance, was named to host the Winter Olympics in 2022 and the Summer Games in 2008. And the N.B.A. does robust business there. A recent ESPN report said the league’s principal team owners have more than $10 billion invested in China.Greg Norman, the golfing legend who is the face of the LIV series, recently claimed that the PGA Tour had 23 sponsors doing more than $40 billion worth of business in Saudi Arabia, saying in an interview on Fox News: “The hypocrisy in all this, it’s so loud. It’s deafening.”Greg Norman, above, chief executive and commissioner of LIV Golf, spoke at the LIV Golf Invitational welcome party, right, in Portland, Ore.Chris Trotman/LIV Golf, via Getty ImagesJoe Scarnici/LIV Golf via Getty ImagesThere have been clumsy moments in support of the Saudi involvement in golf. When asked about Khashoggi’s killing last month at a promotional event in the United Kingdom, Norman said, “Look, we’ve all made mistakes.”The creation of the LIV tour has resurfaced longstanding questions about athletes’ moral obligations and their desire to compete and earn money.Speaking generally, Wyden, who briefly played college basketball, said the Saudi approach is “really part of an autocratic playbook.” He continued: “They go in and try to buy everybody off, buy their silence,” figuring that “something somebody is going to be upset about on Tuesday, everybody’s going to forget about on Thursday.”The Portland tournament will feature $25 million in prize money, including $5 million for team play and $4 million to the individual winner.At news conferences here, golfers acknowledged the financial attraction of the LIV tour. And they said they respected various opinions about their involvement. Some played down human rights issues, while others, like Sergio García and Lee Westwood, said they felt golf could be a force for good.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 5A new series. More

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    Where Have You Gone, Arthur Ashe? LIV Tour Golfers Need You.

    Our columnist asks whether players who have defected to the Saudi-financed golf series will use their platform to bring awareness to human rights violations. Don’t hold your breath.Maybe some good for the world can come out of the lavish new golf tour backed by Saudi Arabia, among the most repressive governments in the world in the eyes of human rights groups.Maybe Greg Norman will use his perch to speak loudly about the Saudi’s crackdown on dissent.Maybe Dustin Johnson will challenge the Saudis to create an open justice system that follows the rule of law.Maybe Phil Mickelson will stand at a podium and demand the Saudis give a full accounting of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist brutally murdered by henchmen on orders, the Central Intelligence Agency has said, from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Yes, the same Prince Mohammed now using the LIV Golf series to distract from the truth about his homeland.Don’t hold your breath. None of the golfers who signed on to the LIV tour in exchange for staggering sums will speak up. They are too spineless and too compromised, working as they do for a tour funded by a government that tramples human rights.Sure, in February, Mickelson had to turn tail and hide after admitting to the journalist Alan Shipnuck that the tour he was about to join was funded by “less than savory individuals.” And yes, in a wince-worthy news conference last week, Mickelson hailed LIV Golf in one breath and then, in another, said he did not condone “human rights violations.”But Mickelson wasn’t about to take the risk of saying anything specific or truly challenging. He went for the one-inch putt and moved on. Don’t expect any of these golfers, or the others who have decided to jump aboard despite banishment from the PGA Tour, to use their fame as a bullhorn and their newfound ties to Saudi Arabia to effect change on the international stage.If you want a potent example of someone who did that, look up Arthur Ashe, his controversial visits to play in apartheid-era South Africa in the 1970s, and how he used his celebrity and gravitas to shame the racist regime while playing the South African Open.There were plenty of activists who disagreed with Ashe’s decision to visit a country where the Black majority lived under the boot of racist whites. But right or wrong, he went, believing engagement would bring more reform than cutting South Africa off. He took with him the guts to confront power — right up until 1977, when he realized real change was not happening and vowed to never play again while the nation was ruled by apartheid.The tennis star Arthur Ashe during hearings of the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Apartheid in 1970.As a frustrated Ashe wrote at the time: “What good is it, the grand scheme of human rights and dignity, to say to a Black South African, ‘You can run in this track meet,’ when he still can’t vote, own a home, make a decent living, attend a school, change his residence without government permission or even walk the streets without carrying that loathsome pass?”After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, he was asked if he wanted to meet anybody in the United States. His response: How about Arthur Ashe?What matters most is that Ashe tried to make change. He spoke up. He made demands. He took an American news crew to South Africa to document what was really going on. These golfers won’t do anything close. They seem bent on silence while making a fortune stained by blood.Fattening their already fattened wallets is the only concern. And in this regard, they appear to have made a prudent decision. Their rogue tour promises to host the richest tournaments in golf history. Mickelson is reportedly making $200 million to play in the LIV Golf series. Johnson is said to be earning $150 million, no matter how he fares.The tour’s inaugural event, held in London, ended Saturday. Five events will be held in the United States this year. The South African Charl Schwartzel, 37, whose career peaked with a win at the Masters in 2011, finished first in both the individual and team competitions in the opening event, and took home $4.75 million.In a news conference after the tournament, he deflected criticism of the Saudi-backed windfall, saying “where the money comes from” is not something he has ever considered in his career.There are 4.75 million reasons he won’t start now.“I think if I start digging everywhere where we played,” he added, “you could find fault in anything.”Ah, the all-too-typical response. Imagine Ashe saying the same thing when visiting Schwartzel’s homeland at the height of its racist depravity. Cynics claim no one has the high ground, so it makes little sense to mix sports with politics and human rights — as, for instance, Wimbledon did this year when it barred Russian and Belarusian players because of their nations’ war against Ukraine.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    What Is LIV Golf? It Depends Who You Ask.

    Bold new project or crass money grab? Even golf’s best players can’t agree on the new Saudi-financed golf tour. Here’s what you need to know.The new Saudi-financed, controversy-trailed LIV Golf series, which is holding its first event this week at an exclusive club north of London, is the talk of golf. Not always, though, in the ways its organizers had hoped.But what is it? Who is playing it? What’s all the hubbub, and how can you watch it? Here’s what you need to know.What is LIV Golf?The new series, bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, is billing itself as “an opportunity to reinvigorate golf” through rich paydays, star players and slick marketing. “Golf but louder,” goes one of its slogans.LIV Golf’s organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the highest level of pro golf for nearly a century.Its critics, which include some of the world’s best players, have labeled it an unseemly money grab.How much money are we talking about?The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history — this week’s total purse is $25 million, with a $20 million pot for the individual event and $5 million more to split in the team competition. The winner’s share this week is $4 million, and the last-place finisher at each event is guaranteed $120,000.And that is on top of the appearance fees and signing-on payouts individual players have accepted. Phil Mickelson is being paid a reported $200 million to take part, and Dustin Johnson, the highest-ranked player to sign up-to-date, is said to have been tempted by an offer worth $150 million. Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, two other top stars expected to compete in the next LIV series event in Oregon, will surely be expecting similar inducements to surrender their PGA Tour careers.Who are the players?The 48 players in the initial LIV Golf event were not exactly a who’s who of golf. There were, of course, big names and former major champions familiar to regular watchers of pro golf: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio García, Ian Poulter, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell.Sergio García eagerly renounced his PGA Tour membership to join the LIV Golf series.Paul Childs/Action Images Via ReutersBut the biggest names in golf stayed away: Tiger Woods said no despite an offer of nearly $1 billion, per Forbes, and Rory McIlroy has publicly rejected the idea. And a large number of the LIV players are probably strangers to even deeply committed golf fans: The American James Piot, for example, has only ever played in one of golf’s four majors, and missed the cut in it. David Puig is a 20-year-old Spanish amateur. Ratchanon Chantananuwat of Thailand is only 15.Not everyone is (or, rather, was) a PGA Tour member, either, which was why only 17 members of the LIV Golf Series were suspended by the tour on Thursday.Read More on Formula 1The 2022 season of the global motorsport, which is enjoying growing popularity and seeking to expand its appeal, is underway.Welcome to Miami: The city became the second U.S. city to host a Formula 1 race. The event featured massive parties, fashion shows and world-famous DJs.An American Conundrum: Liberty Media, which bought Formula 1 in 2017, wants to increase the sport’s popularity in the United States. Why, then, are there no American-born drivers?‘Drive to Survive’: The Netflix series about Formula 1 has been a hit. But the racer Max Verstappen has some bones to pick.Sharing the Spotlight: Drivers in the North America-based IndyCar racing series have welcomed Formula 1’s success. But some fear losing their fans to it.Why did the PGA Tour suspend them?The PGA Tour suspended the players because it requires members to request and receive a release to play in events that conflict with those on its schedule.The punishments were not a surprise: The PGA Tour had clearly signaled months ago that it would take action against any of its players who joined. So moments after the players hit their first shots in the debut event on Thursday, the tour dropped the hammer.“In accordance with the PGA Tour’s tournament regulations, the players competing this week without releases are suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to participate in PGA Tour tournament play, including the Presidents Cup,” the tour said in a statement to its members. It said the suspensions also applied to any PGA Tour affiliates — circuits like the lower-tier Korn Ferry Tour, tours in Canada and Latin America and, notably for the older players who joined the LIV series, the PGA Tour Champions series for golfers over 50.In addition, the PGA Tour said, the players who have resigned their memberships in the tour will be removed from the FedEx Cup points list — essentially ruling them out of the multimillion-dollar season-ending championship series — and are ineligible to use side doors like sponsor’s exemptions or past champion status to get into tour events.But in a letter explaining the suspensions to other pros, the tour’s commissioner, Jay Monahan, also included a direct warning to any players weighing offers to play in LIV Golf events when the series shifts to the United States later this month.“The same fate,” Monahan said of the bans, “holds true for any other players who participate in future Saudi Golf League events in violation of our regulations.”How did the players react?With a mix of caginess, disappointment and disdain. While the bans were announced almost as soon as the players hit their first shots, a few did not learn about the suspensions until they had completed their rounds.Phil Mickelson, whose participation has aroused the most interest, refused to comment, and the former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell said he had expected the punishment, and had already been in contact with lawyers.Ian Poulter insisted that he and the others in the field had not done anything wrong, and said he would appeal. “It makes no sense how I’ve played the game of golf for all this time, I’ve had two tour cards and the ability to play all over the world,” Poulter told reporters. “What’s wrong with that?”Sergio García, the Spanish player who had renounced his tour membership when he joined the LIV Golf Series, essentially said he didn’t care what the PGA Tour did. “I resigned a week and a half ago,” he said, “so whatever the PGA Tour says doesn’t — doesn’t go with me because I’m not a member.”That led to the following exchange with a reporter:Are you banned anyway?No, I’m not banned because I’m not a member of it.Not according to Jay Monahan?Well he received my letter. That’s up to him. It doesn’t bother me.Phil Mickelson was the biggest name to join the new series, but his comments about its Saudi backers have raised eyebrows, and led him into at least one apology.Matthew Lewis/Getty ImagesDo the players have genuine grievances?Some of the players who have signed up to the LIV series, and even many that have not, believe they are getting a raw deal from the PGA Tour. The biggest stars contend their earnings should be more commensurate with their status in the game, and they have pointed out how the best players in other sports earn far more than golfers do.Players and their representatives have often pointed out how golf’s main tours are able to secure hundreds of millions in television rights fees thanks to the star power of a handful of top tour professionals. But the money they make, however famous they are, has to be earned in the same way: through prize money. The career prize-money earnings of golf’s highest achievers, top stars like Woods or McIlroy, are equivalent to what the world’s best soccer players or an elite N.B.A. stars can earn from their teams in a single year. (To be clear: Both Woods and McIlroy have been able to make multiples of those on-course earnings through personal endorsements; Woods is reportedly now a billionaire.) Both have also earned sizable bonuses from the PGA Tour’s new program meant to measure a player’s appeal and popularity across the calendar year.But anger and action are different things: McIlroy is arguably the most high-profile opponent of the breakaway event among current tour players, and he has made several pronouncements that money should not be the main driver of golf’s development. And Woods also has spoken up in favor of the PGA Tour, reminding the world that much of his global fame is thanks to his achievements at tour events.How do the LIV Golf events work?LIV Golf has set up what are essentially shorter tournaments with smaller fields — three rounds instead of four, and with only 48 players competing instead of the rosters on the PGA Tour, which can be three times as large some weeks — and featuring concurrent individual and team play events.With the small field, there is no cut midway through the event to lop off the stragglers, and every round starts with a shotgun start, meaning players tee off from each hole on the course simultaneously and then proceed around the course’s layout from there.The LIV Golf individual competition will feel, in many ways, like a traditional golf event: three rounds, lowest score wins. The team event will see the players drafted by captains into four-man squads (teams with odd names, let’s be honest, like Fireballs and Majesticks) that will contest a separate competition, and for a separate prize pot, each week.This week’s leaderboard, for example, lists individual scores and team affiliations.How is that different from the PGA Tour?With rare exceptions, PGA Tour events generally consist of four-rounds of stroke play, in which players compete against one another to post the lowest score. And while the LIV Golf format might feel unusual for players and viewers, the ultimate goal — circle the 18-hole course in as few shots as possible — is the same.How many events are there?Eight this year, but plans to expand to 10 next year and even more in subsequent seasons are being drawn up. The first seven events this year make up what LIV Golf is calling its regular season. The eighth will be the team championship and include a four-day, four-round seeded match-play event.Those season-ending championships all include their own multimillion-dollar paydays for eligible players.Fans at the first LIV Golf event paid more than $80 each for the lowest-priced grounds passes.Matthew Lewis/Getty ImagesWhat’s with that name?LIV (rhymes with give) Golf chose Roman numerals for its name. If it’s been a while since you studied those in school, LIV translates to 54, which is the number of holes each player will complete in each event’s three-round format, which is one fewer round than a typical PGA Tour workweek, but for a lot more money.(Before you ask: The most recent N.F.L. championship game was Super Bowl LVI, or 56.)How can I watch?Despite its high-profile golfers and its big-money backing, LIV Golf has not yet secured a broadcast rights agreement in the United States — the most lucrative market for televised sports — and will be shown on lesser-watched streaming services in much of the world. (Here’s a full list of non-U.S. options.) That doesn’t mean you can’t watch in the United States, though: This week’s tournament will be available via live streams on LIVGolf.com, YouTube and Facebook.Normally, television networks would have jumped at the chance to show live sports during slow times on the calendar; witness yet another spring football league being shown on television. But ESPN, CBS, NBC and Amazon are in the first year of a nine-year agreement that has them collectively paying hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the PGA Tour to show tournaments. Those networks may have their fill of golf. They may also not want to court controversy, nor anger their business partner, the PGA Tour.History suggests, however, that if LIV Golf does prove to be a success, major rights agreements won’t be far behind. With consumers continuing to slowly abandon pay television, live sports is just about the only type of programming that delivers large, and lucrative, audiences anymore. And the streaming services that are luring those consumers away know that live sports is one of the best ways to get new customers, and keep old ones.So is this just a vanity project for Saudi Arabia?Not exactly. We asked Ben Hubbard, who covers the Middle East as the Beirut bureau chief for The Times and has written a book on Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, to explain the kingdom’s motivations in a bit more depth. His response:Saudi Arabia’s backing of the new series is the latest example of the way oil-rich Gulf monarchies use their vast wealth to invest in sports and cultural institutions in hopes of raising their countries’ international profiles and shifting how they are viewed by people in Western countries.Saudi Arabia’s investments in international sports and culture have accelerated rapidly since 2015, when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his ascent to become the kingdom’s de facto ruler and spearheaded a massive overhaul aimed at opening up its economy and culture.For more that a decade, that effort has included governments hosting Formula One races and professional boxing and wrestling matches; opening branches of world-class museums and universities like the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Georgetown University in Qatar; and buying up European soccer clubs. (Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which the crown prince leads as chairman, acquired the Premier League club Newcastle United last year.)Yasir Al-Rumayyan, in blue jacket, on Thursday. He is a governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is financing the LIV Golf series, and the chairman of the Saudi-owned Premier League club Newcastle United.Matthew Lewis/Getty ImagesIn investing in golf, though, it appears that the Saudis are seeking to win over a different category of sports fan, according to Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, who studies Gulf politics at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.“They are looking for an older, more professional market to try to make inroads to, a wealthier demographic,” Ulrichsen said.That group includes fans of former President Donald Trump, and perhaps even Trump himself, with whom the crown prince enjoys a close relationship.Two of the LIV Golf Series events, in fact, will be at Trump-owned courses: the first in late July, at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., and the season-ending team championship in October, at Trump National Doral Miami.How has that gone over?Not always well. One of LIV Golf’s biggest signings, Mickelson, provoked outrage in February when he praised the series as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” even as he called Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights “horrible” and used an expletive to describe the country’s leaders as “scary.” The project’s main architect, the former player Greg Norman, made things worse a few weeks later when he dismissed Saudi Arabia’s murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi by saying, “Look, we’ve all made mistakes.”Not that the pro golf’s existing power structures, including the PGA Tour, hold the moral high ground.What’s next?The tour’s next four events are in the United States, starting with a stop at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside Portland, Ore., from June 30 to July 2, and then tournaments in New Jersey, Boston and Chicago. Trips to Thailand and Saudi Arabia follow, before the season-ending event in Florida. The full schedule is here.Kevin Draper contributed reporting. More

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    Newcastle Players, Saudi Jets and Premier League Headaches

    When Newcastle traveled to Saudi Arabia for a midseason training camp, it did so on a plane owned by a company seized by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.Well before Newcastle United’s players and coaches set off for a warm-weather training camp in Saudi Arabia this week, the new owners of the Premier League soccer team were facing the difficult task of persuading the world that the team would not be an asset of the Saudi state.It has not been an easy case to make: 80 percent of Newcastle, after all, now belongs to the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The P.I.F.’s chairman is Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler.Even the Premier League has in the past expressed concerns about the connections. It delayed Newcastle’s sale for more than a year until, Premier League officials said, it finally allowed the deal to go through in October after receiving unspecified “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not control the soccer team.Those questions only returned this week, however, when Newcastle’s players and coaching staff shuffled down the steps of their private charter flight in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday. Photographs of the team’s arrival showed the plane was operated by a company called Alpha Star, an aviation business whose parent company was seized by Prince Mohammed after a purge of senior royals and business figures shortly after he emerged as the likely heir to the Saudi throne.The identity of the company and its seizure were documented as part of a lawsuit in Canada brought by the Saudi state against a former senior intelligence official. Alpha Star and its sister company, Sky Prime, another aviation supplier whose planes carried the group of assassins who killed and dismembered the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018, were seized and transferred to the $400 billion sovereign wealth fund — on the orders of Prince Mohammed, according to legal filings — in 2017. The documents revealing the link between the aviation companies and the country’s ruler are part of a long running corruption lawsuit brought by a group of Saudi state-owned companies against the former intelligence official Saad Aljabri, a close confidant of Mohammed bin Nayef, a former interior minister whom Prince Mohammed ousted as crown prince in 2017.But the use of planes — owned by a company created and once contracted by the Saudi state to transport extremists and terrorism suspects — also made it harder, again, for Newcastle’s new British-based owners and executives to claim an arm’s length relationship from their Saudi partners in the P.I.F.State ownership of clubs has become one of the more contentious topics in European soccer in recent years as Paris St.-Germain and Manchester City have both used the seemingly bottomless wealth of their Gulf owners to reshape the economics and competitive balance of the sport. Newcastle fans generally have welcomed the arrival of Saudi riches — and the potential of an on-field revival — at their club, even as critics have raised questions about foreign influence and human rights concerns.Before his team left England, Newcastle United’s coach, Eddie Howe, was pressed about the purpose of the team’s weeklong visit to Saudi Arabia. Howe insisted the motivations were purely sporting, an effort to fine tune the team’s preparations in a warm-weather setting ahead of the second half of the season. But the club faced criticism from human rights groups like Amnesty International, which said the trip risked becoming “a glorified P.R. exercise for Mohammed bin Salman’s government.”On Friday, Howe and his players were reported to have met with representatives of the P.I.F., whose board includes a half-dozen senior Saudi government officials.“I think it just shows, No. 1, why the sale was problematic in the first place and not separate from the Saudi state,” Adam Coogle, a deputy director with the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, said of the trip. “No. 2, it shows they don’t care. They’re just going to flaunt it. They’re not even trying to pretend this isn’t what it is.”A spokesman for P.I.F. declined a request for comment. The Premier League and Newcastle United declined similar requests on Friday.The relationship between Newcastle and Saudi Arabia, though, continues to roil the Premier League. Late last year the league amended its regulations on sponsorships after rivals raised concerns about the prospect of a sudden rush of Saudi Arabian money flowing into the team’s accounts through deals with companies linked to its Gulf ownership.Under a compromise agreement, the league said it would assess all “related party” sponsorships to ensure the agreements were made in line with fair market value.Since the takeover, the Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Masters, has deflected questions about his organization’s ability to ensure that Newcastle did not contravene the assurances about its being separate from the state. When he was asked in November how the league would even know if the local ownership group was following the orders of Prince Mohammed, Masters acknowledged that the league could not know.“In that instance, I don’t think we would know,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to happen. There are legally binding assurances that essentially the state will not be in charge of the club. If we find evidence to the contrary, we can remove the consortium as owners of the club. That is understood.” More

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    Newcastle Players, Saudi Jets and Nagging Questions for the Premier League

    When Newcastle traveled to Saudi Arabia for a midseason training camp, it did so on a plane owned by a company seized by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.Well before Newcastle United’s players and coaches set off for a warm-weather training camp in Saudi Arabia this week, the new owners of the Premier League soccer team were facing the difficult task of persuading the world that the team would not be an asset of the Saudi state.It has not been an easy case to make: 80 percent of Newcastle, after all, now belongs to the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The P.I.F.’s chairman is Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler.Even the Premier League has in the past expressed concerns about the connections. It delayed Newcastle’s sale for more than a year until, Premier League officials said, it finally allowed the deal to go through in October after receiving unspecified “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not control the soccer team.Those questions only returned this week, however, when Newcastle’s players and coaching staff shuffled down the steps of their private charter flight in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday. Photographs of the team’s arrival showed the plane was operated by a company called Alpha Star, an aviation business whose parent company was seized by Prince Mohammed after a purge of senior royals and business figures shortly after he emerged as the likely heir to the Saudi throne.The identity of the company and its seizure were documented as part of a lawsuit in Canada brought by the Saudi state against a former senior intelligence official. Alpha Star and its sister company, Sky Prime, another aviation supplier whose planes carried the group of assassins who killed and dismembered the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018, were seized and transferred to the $400 billion sovereign wealth fund — on the orders of Prince Mohammed, according to legal filings — in 2017. The documents revealing the link between the aviation companies and the country’s ruler are part of a long running corruption lawsuit brought by a group of Saudi state-owned companies against the former intelligence official Saad Aljabri, a close confidant of Mohammed bin Nayef, a former interior minister whom Prince Mohammed ousted as crown prince in 2017.But the use of planes — owned by a company created and once contracted by the Saudi state to transport extremists and terrorism suspects — also made it harder, again, for Newcastle’s for new British-based owners and executives to claim an arm’s length relationship from their Saudi partners in the P.I.F.State ownership of clubs has become one of the more contentious topics in European soccer in recent years as Paris St.-Germain and Manchester City have both used the seemingly bottomless wealth of their Gulf owners to reshape the economics and competitive balance of the sport. Newcastle fans generally have welcomed the arrival of Saudi riches — and the potential of an on-field revival — at their club, even as critics have raised questions about foreign influence and human rights concerns.Before his team left England, Newcastle United’s coach, Eddie Howe, was pressed about the purpose of the team’s weeklong visit to Saudi Arabia. Howe insisted the motivations were purely sporting, an effort to fine tune the team’s preparations in a warm-weather setting ahead of the second half of the season. But the club faced criticism from human rights groups like Amnesty International, which said the trip risked becoming “a glorified P.R. exercise for Mohammed bin Salman’s government.”On Friday, Howe and his players were reported to have met with representatives of the P.I.F., whose board includes a half-dozen senior Saudi government officials.“I think it just shows, No. 1, why the sale was problematic in the first place and not separate from the Saudi state,” Adam Coogle, a deputy director with the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, said of the trip. “No. 2, it shows they don’t care. They’re just going to flaunt it. They’re not even trying to pretend this isn’t what it is.”A spokesman for P.I.F. declined a request for comment. The Premier League and Newcastle United declined similar requests on Friday.The relationship between Newcastle and Saudi Arabia, though, continues to roil the Premier League. Late last year the league amended its regulations on sponsorships after rivals raised concerns about the prospect of a sudden rush of Saudi Arabian money flowing into the team’s accounts through deals with companies linked to its Gulf ownership.Under a compromise agreement, the league said it would assess all “related party” sponsorships to ensure the agreements were made in line with fair market value.Since the takeover, the Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Masters, has deflected questions about his organization’s ability to ensure that Newcastle did not contravene the assurances about its being separate from the state. When he was in November how the league would even know if the local ownership group was following the orders of Prince Mohammed, Masters acknowledged that the league could not know.“In that instance, I don’t think we would know,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to happen. There are legally binding assurances that essentially the state will not be in charge of the club. If we find evidence to the contrary, we can remove the consortium as owners of the club. That is understood.” More

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    Premier League Vote Targets Saudi Spending at Newcastle

    The Premier League imposed a moratorium on sponsorships linked to investors only days after a Saudi-led group took control of one of its teams.Fearing that the arrival of another deep-pocketed ownership group from the Gulf might soon put even their own billionaire owners at a competitive disadvantage, Premier League teams voted Monday to restrict — for a short time at least — the new Saudi Arabian owners of Newcastle United from injecting some of their vast wealth into their newly acquired soccer team.The decision, reached at an emergency meeting of the league’s clubs, imposed a moratorium on teams’ signing sponsorship deals with brands or companies linked to their investors. The temporary rule change — to be in place for less than a month while a permanent one is considered — is not specific to Newcastle but is a clear sign of the worry among Premier League teams that a group led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund could soon remake the economic and competitive state of the league.The clubs are concerned that Newcastle, now backed by resources of one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, will quickly be able to buy its way to success in a manner similar to Manchester City, the Premier League team bought in 2008 by the brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi. Manchester City financed its rise from mid-table strugglers to perennial champions partly through a series of sponsorship deals with companies tied to the United Arab Emirates.Those deals, with partners like Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism, are the subject of an ongoing dispute about possible violations of Premier League cost-control regulations.The degree of concern among Newcastle’s rivals was clear when it came to voting on the new regulation on Monday: 18 teams voted for the temporary ban, with only Newcastle opposed to it. Manchester City, after consulting with its lawyers, abstained.With the moratorium in place, the Premier League has now asked for feedback from its teams while it considers introducing a permanent rule outlawing so-called related party sponsorships, or at least a requirement that such deals be vetted for fair-market value by industry experts.Manchester City is not the only team in the Premier League with sponsors linked to its investors; under its previous owner, Mike Ashley, Newcastle plastered its stadium, St. James’s Park, in advertising for his discount sportswear company.But the timing of Monday’s emergency meeting left little doubt about its focus: It came one day after Newcastle played its first game under its new ownership, and after home fans rose as one before kickoff to cheer the team’s new Saudi chairman.The takeover of Newcastle had been delayed for more than a year but finally got the go ahead after the Premier League said the P.I.F. provided “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle Football Club.”The Premier League has declined to provide details of those assurances. The chairman of the multibillion-dollar fund is Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler, and Newcastle’s new chairman, Yasir al-Rumayyan, is the governor of the P.I.F. and the chairman of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company.“Newcastle fans will love it but for the rest of us it just means there is a new superpower in Newcastle — we cannot avoid that,” Liverpool’s German manager, Jürgen Klopp, said last week when asked about the possible effect of an infusion of Saudi investment into one club. “Money cannot buy everything but over time they will have enough money to make a few wrong decisions, then make the right decisions, and then they will be where they want to be in the long term.”Team owners have privately fumed over the Premier League’s handling of the takeover, complaining that they were not informed about the progress of the sale until the transfer of ownership was announced on Oct. 7. Rival teams are also concerned, given the Premier League’s insistence that the P.I.F. is now viewed as separate from the Saudi state, that any sponsors from the kingdom not directly affiliated to the fund will not be barred regardless of the new rules.One version of a working document reviewed by The New York Times stated that “entities controlled by the same government” that had a stake in a Premier League team could not become a sponsor of that club. The Premier League declined to comment, and it has not made any public comment on the Newcastle sale beyond its news release announcing that the deal had been completed.The Premier League has struggled in the past, however, to enforce its cost-control regulations. An investigation into whether Manchester City breached the league’s financial regulations has now stretched into its third year with little sign that a resolution is near. City filed a series of legal motions that slowed the process, drawing a rebuke earlier this year from a senior judge who wrote, “It is surprising, and a matter of legitimate public concern, that so little progress has been made after two and a half years — during which, it may be noted, the club has twice been crowned as Premier League champions.”The type of financial regulations now being discussed by the Premier League are similar to rules that a group of 12 leading European teams had sought to include this spring in the failed effort to create a European Super League.Several of the clubs involved in the Super League planning, including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool, had expressed concerns about their ability to compete financially with teams — notably City and Qatar-backed Paris St.-Germain — who could draw upon seemingly bottomless resources from outside of the game. “Club revenue must be obtained on an arm’s length basis,” one of the regulations in the Super League plans stated. Teams that broke those regulations faced permanent expulsion from the competition.Some of those same cost-control ideas, though, are now on the table at the Premier League, which will soon face outside scrutiny of its operations as well. Britain’s government this spring appointed a lawmaker, Tracey Crouch, to review soccer governance. Crouch has suggested that she will recommend the appointment of an independent regulator for the sport. More

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    Saudi Arabia, Newcastle and Soccer’s Worship of Money

    The sale of a Premier League team symbolizes a sport’s unashamed devotion to wealth above all else.One single sentence, printed in block capitals, emblazoned on a laminated banner, captured it all: all of the pain and resentment and angst and fury of all those years spent under the turgid, wearying, bleak years of Mike Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle United, that decade and a half when the club’s owner seemed to take pleasure, after a while, in draining his own fans of spirit, and pleasure, and hope.The sentence on the banner made its first appearance nearly seven years ago, at what turned out to be just the halfway point of Ashley’s tenure. It was a reference to that dispiriting habit his club had developed of spurning England’s two domestic cups — the two trophies the club had even the slimmest chance of winning — so much that, often, the team looked as if it was trying to get knocked out early on purpose.It had been prepared for precisely one of those occasions. Newcastle was away at Leicester in the F.A. Cup in January 2015. Or a team playing as Newcastle was, anyway: As ever in the cups, Newcastle had sent out a weakened side, a selection of reserves and fringe players and supporting acts. The headliners had been held back in order to attend to the real business of finishing 15th in the Premier League.Newcastle, as the fans who had traveled to watch their team would have expected, duly lost. It was the very predictability that they were protesting, during the game, when they unfurled the banner.“We do not demand a team that wins,” it read, “we demand a club that tries.”A refrain, born in frustration, became a rallying cry.David Klein/ReutersThe slogan has become a familiar one, as pithy and compelling a summation of everything that Newcastle had been reduced to under Ashley. The banner itself has made occasional appearances over the years, too, as protests have flashed and mutiny has simmered.It was back again, on Thursday evening, for what may prove to be its last hurrah. The circumstances, this time, were a little different: It was carried around not as a rallying cry for an uprising, but as a standard of a battle that had been won. Ashley, at last, was gone, and thousands of Newcastle fans had made their way to St. James’s Park, their shining castle on the hill, to celebrate.Few, if any, of their fellow fans would begrudge them that. Something of a myth has been allowed to take hold, over the last few years, about Newcastle’s fans. They have developed a reputation for being equal parts demanding and delusional, for believing their club uniquely deserving of a restoration to a place of prominence in English soccer’s firmament that it never, really, occupied in the first place.The reality is almost exactly the opposite. All Newcastle’s fans have ever really asked for is a team that is mildly entertaining to watch, and a bit of effort from those charged with running the club. The banner made that perfectly clear. Ashley’s affront was not failing to win; it was robbing them of the hope that they might.That represents the ultimate betrayal of ownership to all fans, and though their estimations of their own suffering have long been hugely overstated — Newcastle’s ordeal of permanent irrelevance in the Premier League is not quite of the same order as that of Bury, a club that no longer exists, or that of the countless Football League teams to have brushed liquidation in recent years — there has been an abundance of sympathy to their plight. Only at Sunderland, Newcastle’s neighbor and bitter rival, might anyone regret the departure of Ashley, and the end of Newcastle’s nightmare.Any owner not named Mike Ashley would have found support in Newcastle.Lindsey Parnaby/EPA, via ShutterstockBut that was not the only thing the crowd had gathered to celebrate on Thursday. There was glee, too, at the start of what appears to be a dream. It is not just that Newcastle has been freed from Ashley, it is that it has been liberated by the sort of owner who seems to promise a club that tries and a team that wins.Newcastle is now the richest club in soccer, backed by the unimaginable wealth of the Public Investment Fund, the investment vehicle of Saudi Arabia but absolutely not — and apologies if this makes no sense — in any way linked to the Saudi state, even though Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s crown prince and de facto ruler, is the chairman of the P.I.F., and even though it describes itself as a “sovereign” wealth fund, which rather gives away where its money comes from.It was that distinction that persuaded the Premier League to wave the deal through. When it held up the Saudi-led takeover last year, the league had not, it turned out, been worried that Saudi Arabia was pirating its content through a rogue television broadcaster, or that it had banned BeIN Sports, one of league’s key network partners, from operating in its territory, or even about the kingdom’s jailing of women’s rights activists or the persecution of dissidents or the chemical castration of gay people or the brutal, unrelenting war in Yemen or the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.No, the Premier League just needed to be reassured that the Mohammed bin Salman who runs Saudi Arabia would not interfere with the decisions of the Mohammed bin Salman who runs Saudi Arabia’s sovereign investment fund.Once the league had those promises, the P.I.F. was free to acquire 80 percent of one of the league’s member clubs and to begin to think about how to take on Manchester City, a club definitely not owned by Abu Dhabi, in the Premier League and Paris St.-Germain, a club totally separate from the Qatari state, in the Champions League.And a handful of Newcastle fans were free to gather outside St. James’s Park in thobes and headdresses, waving the Saudi flag, inscribed with the shahada, while singing that their club had, at last, been returned to them.This, of course, is the point of the whole thing. Saudi Arabia, and its crown prince in particular, is obsessed with its image. It is why it runs troll farms in Riyadh dedicated to swarming anyone who dares to criticize the regime online. It is why it does not tolerate dissent. It is why Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered, according to United States intelligence, by a hit squad acting on the orders of Salman, the man who runs the country and the one who is the chairman of the fund that now owns a Premier League soccer team.There are plenty of Newcastle fans who are uneasy about that connection, about the fact that it is now possible to write a sentence in which the murder of a journalist and Newcastle United both feature.But there are plenty more — a supporters’ trust survey last year found that almost 97 percent were in favor of the Saudi takeover — who are willing to turn a blind eye to that ethical dilemma, to assert that their new owner is no worse than Manchester City’s, or to point out that Liverpool is sponsored by a bank that has been accused of laundering the profits of drug cartels, or to suggest that since Britain is happy to sell arms to the Saudis, it might as well sell its soccer teams, to claim that when everything is rotten there is nothing to do but succumb to putrefaction.Many Newcastle fans accused the Premier League of blocking the sale of the club to a Saudi-led group.Scott Heppell/ReutersAnd there are others still — the ones in the thobes, the ones with the Saudi flag in their social media avatars, the ones who have issued scrawls of abuse to Khashoggi’s widow for daring to challenge the morality of the takeover — who are perfectly happy to embrace it, to do precisely what the Saudis want them to do.The P.I.F. has not bought Newcastle because it loves soccer, or England’s northeast, or the beach at Tynemouth or the leafy streets of Gosforth or the grand Georgian facades of Gray Street.It has bought Newcastle to diversify its economy, to enmesh strategic allegiances in sport and culture, to rehabilitate its image, to make people think of Saudi Arabia and soccer before they think of Saudi Arabia and starving children in Yemen. The fact that it gets a free vanguard of vitriolic advocates on social media — just as Abu Dhabi has managed at Manchester City — is a bonus.Newcastle United, and those fans, are being used, just as City is being used and just as P.S.G. is being used and Chelsea is being used, just as soccer as a whole is being used and, in the process, corrupted. And yes, those fans are complicit in it. But they are not the only ones to blame.So, too, are the authorities that have allowed this to happen, time and time again: the Premier League, with the “ownership neutral” stance that it wears with such pride, and the Football Association and UEFA and FIFA and all the rest of them, the bodies that are supposed to protect and cherish the sport but have instead sold it off to the highest bidder.And so, too, are the rest of us: the journalists and the commentators and the observers and the fans, everyone who has reveled in the conspicuous consumption of transfer deadline day, anyone who has ever taken the Deloitte Money League as a sign of the sport’s health, rather than a damning indictment of its venality, its naked, unashamed worship of money.Gulf riches transformed Manchester City into a championship team. Newcastle fans will be hoping the same will happen at their club.Pool photo by Dave Thompson/EPA, via ShutterstockA year or so after Newcastle’s fans unfurled that banner, Everton was playing away at Aston Villa. Their club had just been taken over, too, this time by Farhad Moshiri, a British-Iranian businessman with a personal fortune of impossible vastness. They, too, could not believe their luck. “We’re rich,” they sang that night, over and over again, a profanity wedged between those two words.There is a warning in there, of course — five years later, Everton is roughly where it used to be in the Premier League table, but about $500 million in transfer fees worse off — but the story does not require a particularly deep reading. For 30 years, the Premier League has lionized wealth — as a means to an end, and now, after a while, as an end in itself.The natural, logical, unavoidable conclusion of that culture is Newcastle fans gathering outside St. James’s Park in traditional Saudi dress. The only way for clubs to compete, the only way for owners to restore hope in its purest form, is money. And it is Saudi Arabia that has the most money.It is money that has distorted soccer to such an extent that all dreams but one are now dead. There is no hope of a team’s breaking through thanks to a particularly gifted crop of youngsters who emerge from its academy. There is precious little belief that an inspirational manager, with a keen eye for talent, will be enough to challenge the petroclubs for league titles and European trophies.The only thing that can do that, the only dream that survives, is that your club will, somehow, one day wake up with more money than everyone else. That, in effect, is what happened to Newcastle on Thursday: the sudden, jolting realization that its wildest fantasy had come true; not just that its purgatory was over, but that its paradise had arrived.It is easy to point at those fans and say that they are the problem — that it is their willingness to pay any price for success that means that yet another club that prides itself as a community institution is now in the hands of an owner who is willing to use it for selfish ends; that they are apparently ready to service the needs of the murderous regime that is seeking to deploy soccer to launder its image.But they are not the problem; they are the consequence of the problem. They are the end point of an era and a culture obsessed with acquisition, that believes ambition can be measured only in millions of dollars, that cherishes those who spend and castigates those who do not, that has welcomed money, whatever its provenance, as an objective good, and never questioned, not once, what that money might want to do, what its purpose might be.This is the answer. This is where that path leads — to a place where the only hope that fans have is money, where dreams are built on money, and where there is no such thing as a price too high to pay.CorrespondenceMore examples this week of countries that field multiple national teams, courtesy of Sean O’Brien. “It’s basically just a list of former colonies that are now dependent or unincorporated territories — mostly in the Caribbean,” Sean wrote, mentioning American Samoa and Puerto Rico, Aruba and Curaçao.The United Kingdom features again here: Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Bermuda all field their own national teams. I stand wholeheartedly corrected, by both Sean and Joe Chihade, who wrote along similar lines, but mentioned Gibraltar as well. This is going to get uncomfortably political, isn’t it? And I only feel entitled to do jokes about Britain.Alphonso Davies and Canada earned a 1-1 draw at Mexico in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday, a lift to the Canadians’ campaign to qualify for the finals for the first time since 1986.Jose Mendez/EPA, via ShutterstockYusuke Toyoda, meanwhile, wonders whether we are making enough effort to pronounce players’ names, citing the estimable Derek Rae. “This seems to plague Brazilian and Portuguese players the most (I remember being surprised that Ronaldinho is pronounced more like ‘Hu-now-jee-new’),” Yusuke wrote. “My question is, how hard would it be to fix this? If the Premier League goes to the trouble of creating a starting XI video for every player, couldn’t they also have each player say his name?”That is, I believe, the case: I have several friends — including a couple on Set Piece Menu — who work as commentators and are extremely pious about the accuracy of their pronunciations. The Premier League asks each and every player, every season, how they wish to be mentioned, and then sends a phonetic pronunciation to every broadcaster.Of course, that does not mean they always get it right. Commentary is an extremely difficult skill to master, and there are moments when they may slip. My personal belief — and I say this as someone with a name that lots and lots of people, all over the world, find entirely baffling — is that as long as you make an effort, then that should be enough.That, perhaps, is a view rooted in privilege, but I would imagine most people, like me, when they hear someone have a good go at a name that does not come naturally — it’s the double R, in my case: I tend to get Roly, Lolly, Lori and, of course, that old standby Roy* — are content to know that someone is showing them the respect of trying, and willing to go along with whatever works best. I’ve certainly never known a player to complain about it, as long as an attempt is made in good faith.[*The other day, someone tried to get my attention by calling me “Greg.” Eventually, I had to respond, and I felt intimidated by how awkward it would be to correct them, so I didn’t say anything. I then immediately texted my wife to say that, from now on, for the sake of good manners, should we ever find ourselves together with that person, she should refer to me as Greg so as to spare that person’s blushes. I don’t know why I’m phrasing this so carefully. The person is clearly not a reader.] More