Paul Casey flips on playing in Saudi Arabia: ‘I have always been open-minded and willing to learn’

Paul Casey responded to those attacking him for hypocrisy after his past stance against playing in Saudi Arabia — and now agreeing to play there in 2021.

Casey, a UNICEF ambassador, decided against playing in the European Tour’s event in Saudi Arabia in previous seasons.

The Tour, Saudi Arabia and the tournament, which featured Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau last year, came under intense scrutiny in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Johnson won the inaugural event in 2019 and finished second to Graeme McDowell last year.

“There are a lot of places in the world that I have played and continue to go, which you could question … some human rights violations that governments have committed,” Casey said last year. “I thought I’d sit this one out.”

But Casey decided he will play in the event this year when it takes place at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club from Feb. 4-7 in an event that matches up against the Phoenix Open on the calendar. He certainly isn’t alone.

Johnson, DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood and McDowell will all be in the field as well.

After Casey took some heat for playing in the event on social media, he insisted that he took the invitation only after significant thought. Some have said the Saudis are using sports to “sportswash” any human rights violations the country has allowed.

“This is not a decision I’ve taken lightly. I wasn’t comfortable going in the past, but I have always been open-minded and willing to learn. I believe sport has the power to affect change. I’ve listened to the Saudi’s commitment to this and their vision for the future,” Casey said in a statement released to Golfweek a few other select members of the media.

“They have successfully hosted two professional ladies tournaments which shows that Golf Saudi have big plans not only for professional golf, but more so for grassroots and the next generation.”

The male guardian system in Saudi Arabia means that legally, from birth until death, a woman must rely on a man – usually a father or a husband – to make certain decisions or approvals on her behalf.

Yet the first women’s golf events ever held in the Kingdom took place from Nov. 12-19 at Royal Greens Golf Club on the Red Sea Coast near Jeddah.

“It is always better to include rather than exclude when eliciting change, thus I hope my participation will make a difference and I am looking forward to seeing these changes in person,” Casey said.

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