Former world number one Greg Norman told reporters “we’ve all made mistakes” in answering questions about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The 67-year-old Australian is at the helm of a new $255m (£207m) Saudi-funded competition, with the first of eight events taking place at the Centurion Club near London in June.
But golf was low on the agenda at an event to promote the new LIV Golf series, with the vast majority of questions centered around allegations of so-called ‘sports laundering’ and the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Norman, who is the CEO of LIV Golf, said: “Everyone has acknowledged it, right? It’s been talked about, from what I’ve read, following what they’ve reported. Taking ownership, no matter what it is.”
“Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them in the future.”
According to US media reports, the CIA, whose director listened to the consulate’s audio recordings, concluded with “medium to high confidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder, an allegation bin Salman has denied.
Bin Salman is chairman of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) which provides the money for many sporting events including Formula 1, boxing, soccer and golf.
Norman, who won two open championships and spent more than 300 weeks as world number one in the 1980s and 1990s, told BBC Sport on Tuesday that he had secured an additional $2bn from PIF that would enable his LIV plans. Golf span “decades”. .
On Wednesday, Norman, who says he has not met bin Salman, said he would have no problem if players joining his series spoke out on human rights issues.
“Each player has the right to his opinion and his voice,” he said.
“This whole thing about Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi and human rights, talk about that, but also talk about the good that the country is doing to change its culture.
“There are not many countries that can stand up and be proud of that. They cannot be proud of their past, there are many countries in this world that also have to carry a cross, but they are taking care of the youngest.” generation.”
In addition to dealing with problems related to his sponsors, Norman also has a headache that the PGA Tour refuses to allow its members to play in their events.
On Tuesday, Norman told the BBC he had five of the world’s top 50 committed to the Centurion tournament, but was countered by the PGA Tour’s statement, threatening bans against anyone flouting the ruling.
There are reports that the DP World Tour, given its strategic partnership with the PGA Tour, will follow suit by not allowing its members to play in the fledgling series.
Norman said LIV Golf had court orders “ready to go” if the PGA and DP World Tours tried to ban players after denying them release.
The inaugural 54-hole, $25m (£20m) tournament will take place at the Centurion Club, 30 miles north of London, from June 9-11.
Norman expects to announce part of the field next week, in preparation for the US PGA Championship, the second men’s major of the year, with the final field to be confirmed on May 27.
Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood are among the players who applied to the PGA Tour for permission to play.
“We’re going to back the players,” Norman said. “It will be the player’s choice. I’m not going to begrudge any player who makes the decision to play wherever he wants. We’re giving them the chance because we believe LIV is here for a long period of time.”
“If you want to go exclusively to the PGA Tour, happy day, do it. I guarantee you that a lot of people will eventually come to play with LIV Golf.”
“I’ve told the players, ‘We’ve got your back, simple as that.’ We will defend, reimburse and represent.”
Eight invitational events are scheduled for 2022, and Norman says more will follow in 2023 with a 14-event team league starting in 2024.
Each of the first seven tournaments will have a prize fund of $25m, with $4m (£3.2m) going to the winner, and a $50m prize pool for the final event.
And Norman insisted that he could make the venture a success, even if the best players in the world avoided him.
“We don’t need them,” Norman said when asked if Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy, who said there was a “morality” in not accepting Saudi money, would improve his proposal.
“If none of the top 20 [players in the world rankings] Come on, he’s still ahead.
“Imagine if a 15-year-old from Asia came in and won the first event. He’s the next superstar. That would be the greatest moment in golf because it shows that the next generation exists.”
Norman says he tried to talk to PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan about how the two could work “shoulder to shoulder” but says he hasn’t gotten a response.
In March, at the PGA Tour’s flagship Players Championship, Monahan said he “wouldn’t be distracted by rumors from other golf leagues.”