Written by Staff Writer
Rory McIlroy has defended the European Tour’s decision to host this year’s Saudi International, blaming “nothing more than naivety” for the backlash against the tournament.
The world number six was the highest-profile golfer to make a stand this week, and it could not have come at a worse time for the tour as it prepares to host the Omega Dubai Desert Classic starting on Thursday.
Ibaad Golf Club’s Greg Norman said the decision to play the tournament at one of Saudi Arabia’s worst-ranked venues showed “sad and utter stupidity.”
And with many boycotting the event, many are calling for it to be canceled.
However, McIlroy, who failed to qualify for the Dubai tournament, insisted this weekend that the tournament should go ahead.
“It’s absolutely horrific that anybody would say anything like that,” he told Sky Sports.
“I think the Royal Saudi Golf Federation and the CEO in particular have done everything to try and fix the situation.
“Obviously the situation is what it is. You’re asking them to host the tournament in a different venue and have it be played in a totally different country. I’m quite comfortable with that.
“I actually think we should be throwing our weight behind the situation to try and try and get the kingdom involved in the world. Golf is a great way to do that.
“It’s nothing more than naivety on the part of the players. Nobody on tour was given any prior information, no one in the organization was informed — they just heard from people that the president of the Royal Saudi Golf Federation was coming out and said that we’re going to host the tournament.
“So these people are given … and the contract, they just get their hands on it, and this is what they do.”
Tony Johnstone, one of the ambassadors for the tournament, defended the choice of venue.
“We were not told by anyone that this is where they want us to host the tournament,” he told Sky Sports.
“When we were going through the list of venues we got to the Ibaad Golf Club, and of all the venues there is, and I don’t care how much support they have for men, I don’t think it’s the right fit for this tournament.
“We came up with this plan and I’m pretty sure everyone around the board did as well.
“People are entitled to their point of view but we were given every opportunity to ensure it was the right choice. If it is bad, go and have your protest, but people have to understand this tournament has been supported for 14 years and nobody would have believed, and myself and the board would have believed, we’d get this far.”
The event continues this week with the World Golf Final in Dubai, which has attracted no major players despite the tournament being dubbed the Final Four and featuring Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.