Sportswashing is not a new concept, but Saudi Arabia’s use of its Public Investment Fund has taken it to a different level.

The effect was felt Tuesday when the PGA Tour and DP World Tour agreed to a merger with LIV Golf with the PIF being the main source of investment for the new golf entity. PGA commissioner Jay Monahan was ecstatic about the news, which seemed to brush away his past disdain for the Saudi-backed league.

Players were caught off guard by the announcement, and fans are left wondering what this new golf entity means for the sport. What this was a reminder of is that business always will triumph over personal issues. There always is more money to be had, and golf fans learned what Monahan’s price for his morals are.

Saudi Arabia is one of the worst human rights offenders in the world, according to Amnesty International. The country has increased its use of public executions, restricts free speech and has a low track record of women’s rights. Most notably, Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in 2018. A United Nations human rights expert in 2019 put the blame on the Saudi Arabian government for the assassination.

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Women were allowed to drive in 2019, but the country’s strict guardianship has not allowed much freedom for women. Saudi Arabia claimed last month it welcomes LGBTQ visitors to the kingdom, but it still is illegal to identify as LGBTQ.

But the country has attempted to soften its image under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the biggest way it has done that is through sports. The PIF has been used for various investments, but it appears the crown prince has understood the effect of sports and entertainment.

The Saudi government has paid WWE $50 million since 2018 to hold premium live events in the kingdom with “Night of Champions” held last month. Female superstars have been allowed to wrestle since 2019 likely in an effort to boost the kingdom’s image toward women’s rights. But women still can be arrested for posting about social reform on social media.

In 2020, the PIF was part of an ownership group to take over Newcastle United. The soccer club finished fourth in the Premier League this season and will play in the Champions League this season, so Newcastle will get a chance to be a bigger name on the soccer stage.

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However, the Saudi Professional League has started to increase its exposure. Cristiano Ronaldo signed with Al-Nassr through the summer of 2025 this year that paid him $75 million per year to make him the highest paid in the history of the sport, according to FOX Sports. The deal reportedly could reach $200 million through commercial agreements with the club.

Karim Benzema left Real Madrid this season to sign with Al-Ittihad through 2025 in a deal that also could reach $200 million a year through commercial deals, according to Fabrizio Romano. Lionel Messi, who left Paris Saint-Germain this season, also is wanted by the Saudi club for over $350 million a year, according to The Guardian. The PIF took control of Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli on Tuesday, per Front Office Sports.

The big-picture point is Saudi Arabia is sportswashing away its negative perception by playing a big role in the sports world. Yes, the United States and England are not perfect and have plenty of negatives to point out. But people in those countries at least can speak out about income inequality in the U.S. or the growing effort to privatize the NHS in the United Kingdom. The negatives are not equal no matter what naysayers try to have you believe.

And is it ambitious and naïve to expect morality in sports? Unfortunately, yes. But fans and players are reaching a point and wondering how much money is it worth to change the landscape of sport. Sports betting has been decried as taking the purity of sport away. No matter where you fall in that debate, how is sportswashing not as frowned upon? It feels inevitable Major League Baseball, the NHL, the NBA or the NFL are drawn to the life-changing money that the PIF can offer.

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Monahan already makes tens of millions of dollars, according to tax filings. How much is enough to allow bad actors to continue their misdeeds? That answer has yet to be found.

Featured image via Peter Casey/USA TODAY Sports Images