Australian golf legend Greg Norman has come under fire for shocking comments about the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The 67-year-old former professional golfer and two-time open winner was speaking at an event in Britain on Wednesday (local time), where he outlined his plans for a $255 million LIV Golf Invitational Series.
The series is controversially funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which has caused tension between Norman and the Professional Golders Association.
Norman was grilled over concerns about the Saudi backing for the series, because of the nation’s human rights record – including the shocking 2018 murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
US intelligence found Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “approved” an operation to capture or kill Kashoggi. The journalist was reportedly dismembered by a bone saw inside the consulate.
But Norman brushed aside a question about the brutal murder.
“This whole thing about Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi and human rights, talk about it, but also talk about the good that the country is doing in changing its culture,” he said,
“Everybody has owned up to it, right? It has been spoken about, from what I’ve read, going on what you guys reported,” he said.
“Take 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 going forward.”
Norman pushed back on further questions, saying he wasn’t “going down this road” and asking them to “stay focused on the golf”.
The comments sparked immediate backlash online.
ESPN SportsCenter anchor Michael Eaves took aim at Norman’s comments.
“They lured this man to a specific place to murder him, and then cut up his body to hide the evidence. That’s far from a ‘mistake’, Greg!”
The Times‘ chief sports editor Martyn Ziegler called the comments “astonishing”.
New York Post writer Brian Wacker said Norman was “becoming more reprehensible by the day”.
“Just when you though Greg Norman’s shilling for murderers couldn’t get any more contemptible,” Golf writer Eamon Lynch tweeted.
Norman was also questioned about the tournament’s Saudi links earlier this week in an interview with Sky Sports News. He insisted he did not answer to Saudi Arabia.
“It’s reprehensible what happened with Kashoggi,” he said.
“They want to change their culture. And they are changing the culture. And you know how they’re doing it? Golf.”
“Sportswashing is what you’re talking about there,” the interviewer interjected – referring to the practice of using sports to present a friendlier version of a political regime.
“No, I’m not talking about sportswashing,” Norman said.
“They’re not my bosses. We’re independent. I do not answer to Saudi Arabia.
The controversial 54-hole event will tee off on June 9 in Britain. It has a total prize pool of US$25 million ($36 million), including US$4 million ($5.7 million) for the winner.
However, the PGA has refused to award players the required releases to take part in the tournament, meaning they faces possible bans or fines if they decide to go ahead.
Norman has pledged to “defend, reimburse and represent” any players who are sanctioned for their participation.