Heavy-handed Saudis criticised for 'draconian' rules imposed on LIV Golf Series

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The inaugural LIV Golf Invitational - Centurion Club, Hemel Hempstead, Britain - Heavy-handed Saudis criticised for 'draconian' rules imposed on LIV Golf Series - ACTION IMAGES
The inaugural LIV Golf Invitational - Centurion Club, Hemel Hempstead, Britain - Heavy-handed Saudis criticised for 'draconian' rules imposed on LIV Golf Series - ACTION IMAGES

The Saudi rebel circuit has been accused of being “heavy handed” with its rules on fan conduct for this week’s opening $25million LIV Golf Series here at Centurion Club, as well as being “over-protective” of the players particularly in regards to the media.

LIV have employed Ari Fleischer as a consultant, with the former aide to President George W Bush acting in a press officer role, asking questions at the front of the press conference, as well as ending the session.

The role of the 61-year-old New Yorker has not stopped there, however.

“He has been giving us 30-minute sessions on how to answer questions from the media,” one player told Telegraph Sport. “He’s impressive but it does seem a bit over-protective.”

Another pro, not playing this week, commented: “I’m not sure it is necessary. This is supposed to be golf. It’s like taking an AK47 to a water-pistol fight.”

Fleischer is an interesting appointment. He was White House press secretary during the 9/11 attacks and had his disputes with the Saudis, announcing on behalf of the President, a year after the atrocity: "Saudi Arabia must deal with the fact it has terrorists inside its own country."

In 2011, Fleischer caused outrage by sending a tweet accusing President Obama of “copying Saudi Arabia”. Fleischer posted: “Has spent and is willing to spend hundreds of billions so he won’t be overthrown.”

When asked about this on Tuesday and how he now finds himself on the Saudi payroll, Fleischer responded: “Anything I tweeted about [was] prior to LIV. When you look at world relations, that was a long, long time ago.”

Later, the same AP journalist, annoyed at not being able to ask a question, tried to follow Fleischer out of the media room, asking: “Have you accepted blood money?” The reporter was blocked by another official and seemingly led away by a security guard. However, he returned soon after and dismissed the incident.

One of LIV Golf’s slogans is “golf but not as you know it” and stunned veterans of the press room were certainly in agreement.

Outside the ropes, it might also be an unfamiliar scene - and not just because of the booming music coming from the range. Spectators will not be allowed into the Centurion Club until Thursday, but when they arrive for the first round they might find the regulations to be at best stringent and at worst severe.

One security specialist who did not wish to be named but has worked extensively with the DP World Tour, called the language of the email on conditions of conduct sent to attendees as “completely over the top”.

“The tone is ridiculous and appears to highlight how worried they are about heckles concerning human-rights records and the players accepting the Saudi millions,” the source said.

“A regular Tour event would never be so heavy handed. This is a policy taken from the Ryder Cup where there have infamously been occasions when tempers have boiled over into the ugly. Indeed, a few of the lines seem to be directly lifted from the Ryder Cup website. But, I mean, this is not the Ryder Cup is it? They'll be lucky to get a fifth of the crowd, even with all the free tickets handed out.”

Ari Fleischer addressing the media - PA
Ari Fleischer addressing the media - PA

On the Ryder Cup website it says: “Any individual or group that verbally abuses, taunts, or shouts insults at the players, caddies, captains, officials and/or their partners or families any time or displays unruly or disorderly behaviour will result in their immediate removal from the premises.”

On the LIV website it says: “Any individual or group that verbally abuses, taunts, or shouts insults at the players, caddies, captains, volunteers, officials and/or their partners, families or other guests at any time or displays unruly or disruptive behaviour will result in immediate removal from the premises.”

Other passages are also extremely similar - right down to the American spellings - but LIV goes further than even the Ryder Cup with this following warning.

“Guests will enjoy the LIV Golf tournament free from disruptive behaviour including, but not limited to foul or abusive language, obscene gestures, fighting, throwing objects, booing, or cheering at inappropriate times, attempting to disrupt play or distract teams or players from their game. Those who engage in any of these actions are subject to immediate ejection… and subject to criminal trespass or prosecution.”

LIV also is stricter than the Ryder Cup in not allowing spectators to bring their own water, “golf shoes with metal spikes” and “strollers” or “buggies”.

“It is extraordinary” the source said. “One of their slogans is ‘golf but louder’, but clearly not very loud. These measures are very draconian. And they seem to be protecting the Saudis rather than the players.”