South Australian government faces fresh criticism for hosting Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour

<span>Photograph: Zachary BonDurant/USA Today Sports</span>
Photograph: Zachary BonDurant/USA Today Sports

The South Australian government’s support of a Saudi-backed golf tournament has come under renewed criticism after the kingdom’s failed attempt to sponsor the Fifa Women’s World Cup.

The LIV golf tour, which has reportedly received billions from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, will make its Australian debut at the Grange Golf Club in Adelaide next month despite being internationally condemned as an attempt to “sportswash” the regime’s human rights abuses.

The premier, Peter Malinauskas, has defended the Adelaide event as “utterly appropriate” and an “unparalleled opportunity” for economic growth. Malinauskas, who was contacted for comment, has previously said his government had “an obligation to pursue” hosting the tournament, citing “the prospect of tens of thousands of visitors” it will attract.

Related: SA premier defends hosting Saudi-backed LIV Golf, calling critics ‘establishment monopolist forces’

The federal independent MP Rebekha Sharkie, who represents the Adelaide electorate of Mayo, said the premier should never have approved the tournament given the scale of Saudi human rights abuses.

“I don’t think it’s a good look at all,” Sharkie said. “It’s disappointing and the wrong approach.

“I would have liked to have seen a different stand taken by the South Australian government with respect to this. There’s money on one hand but there’s always a cost to pay and that cost is integrity.”

The Saudi-backed rebel tour, which boasts a “party hole” with drinks and live music in Adelaide, has already proved popular with Australian fans. Tickets sold out within hours of going on sale. The Seven Network will broadcast the tournament.

Human rights campaigners argue LIV is part of a broader Saudi strategy to reduce the kingdom’s economic reliance on oil and improve its international reputation.

The rate of executions in the kingdom has almost doubled under the rule of de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman. Despite a number of recent legal changes, women in Saudi Arabia still have to obtain male guardian permission to get married, leave prison, or obtain some forms of sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Last week, Australia’s federal sports minister, Anika Wells, said she was “thrilled” the kingdom’s tourism body, Visit Saudi, would not be sponsoring the Women’s World Cup as that would allow focus to return to the event itself.

Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said there was no difference between Visit Saudi and the LIV tour.

“The public investment fund, which is expressly controlled by Saudi prime minister and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, owns 90-plus per cent of LIV golf. They are both Saudi-controlled entities and it is a big lie to pretend otherwise,” Worden said.

“Quite frankly, until the moment that all women and girls have basic human rights in Saudi Arabia, it is not an appropriate partner for Australian entities.”

Amnesty International, which campaigned against the proposed Saudi sponsorship of the Fifa Women’s World Cup, urged South Australia not to be complicit in the kingdom’s “campaign to whitewash their human rights record”.

“We urge the South Australian government to assess the economic benefits of the LIV tournament against Saudi Arabia’s truly horrific human rights record,” an Amnesty spokesperson said.

“Not least the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as public beheadings, condemning gay people to death by stoning and the guardianship system which prevents women from having a job without the permission of her male guardian.”