The PGA Tour defended its controversial deal with the Saudi-backed LIV golf union Tuesday before senators, some of whom have been critical of the deal.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee investigative subcommittee opened its first hearing on the merger of the PGA Tour and LIV commercial assets.

Representatives from LIV Tour or the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund did not attend the hearing because CEO Greg Norman was not in the country, according to the spokesman. Ron Price, the PGA Tour’s chief operating officer, and Jimmy Dunne, an independent director on the policy committee, will testify Tuesday.

The June merger announcement rocked the sports world, with many critics on Capitol Hill accusing the PIF-funded LIV of “sports shuffling,” the spread of government influence through sports.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said: “Today’s hearing is not just about the game of golf…it’s about how a brutal, repressive regime buys influence — in fact even Takeover — of a cherished American institution, only to sanitize its public image,” the state of Connecticut said in a statement. “This regime kills journalists, jails and tortures dissidents, foments war in Yemen, and supports other terrorist acts, including 9/11. It’s called the ‘sports shuffle.'”

A spokesman for Blumenthal said the committee is preparing to hear testimony from Norman as well as the tour golfer at some point in the future.

On Tuesday, Dunn and Price said they believed the PGA Tour would benefit most from the proposed deal. Dunn said the tour would “certainly remain intact and come out stronger” if a deal was reached, adding that he hoped PIF president Yasir Al-Rumayyan would “be able to to play a more productive role in sport” constructively.

While subcommittee chairman Blumenthal was critical of the deal, the ranking member, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), struck a softer tone.

“I hope the hearing will give the PGA an opportunity to describe the challenges it faces in operating and managing professional golf,” Johnson said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “The PGA has an existential threat and that’s what they’re trying to do.” things to preserve the purity of the game of golf and the game at the highest level.”

In the framework agreement, the proposed deal says it would create a for-profit subsidiary of the PGA Tour, with the new entity managing all of the tour’s commercial assets. The PGA Tour will manage the tournament and said it is leading negotiations to reach a final deal.

Johnson said Tuesday that the focus should be on negotiating a deal to protect the game of golf, adding that the tour faces an “existential threat” until an early deal with the PIF is reached.

Critics have also pointed to the Saudi government’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks, which the kingdom denies, blamed the killing of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi and accused the kingdom of a “sports shuffle”. “. LIV has faced such criticism since its inception, and its activities have seen protests, notably by families of those killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers that day were from Saudi Arabia, the country where the mastermind of the attack, Osama bin Laden, was born. U.S. officials concluded that Saudi nationals helped finance the terrorist group al-Qaeda, although the investigation did not find Saudi officials involved in the attacks.

“Listen, my deepest sympathies go out to the families of 9/11. I understand the ‘clean movement’ issue. I don’t think the Saudis have enough billions to clean up the stain on (Jamal) Khashoggi’s brutal murder ,” Johnson said on CNBC on Tuesday.

“But the reality is we all buy oil. We drive cars. We’re the ones in the coffers of (public) investment funds. I’d rather the Saudis invest their oil wealth in the US than in China or Russia, that’s what the world is about.” Reality,” Johnson added.

Earlier Tuesday, Blumenthal pointed to the Saudi ties and the approach of PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan a year before announcing the deal speak out Controversy like this.

Blumenthal, like the 9/11 Home United, referred to Monaghan’s remarks in an interview with CBS Sports, when he said he had discussed the controversies with Tour players.

“I think you’d have to live under a rock not to know the big ramifications of that,” Monaghan said in an interview. “I’d ask any player who’s gone or anyone who’s thinking about leaving, ‘Have you ever been a PGA player because of being a PGA player? Apologizing for being part of the Tour?’”

After the deal was announced, Monaghan said he expected to be called a hypocrite, and he took criticism, especially after PGA Tour players expressed their shock and anger. Monaghan has been on leave due to an unknown health condition, but is expected to return on July 17.

While the PGA Tour has argued that the proposed deal is the best move in golf, especially given LIV’s costly lawsuits and fierce competition, it has not acknowledged its disputed relationship with Saudi Arabia until Tuesday’s hearing. relation.

“Of course, we expect a lot of questions about who we’re dealing with,” Dunn said on the subcommittee Tuesday.

Dunn went on to say that he lost 66 friends and colleagues at the company in the September 11 attacks.

“The reality is that because some men from Saudi Arabia were part of the September 11 nightmare, there’s been a lingering suspicion of complicity among others,” Dunn said, adding that he kept thinking of friends who died that day . “I think about those families, and the never-ending grief. If there was anyone with the remotest connection to the attacks on our country and the murder of my friend, I’m the last person who would sit with them.”

Dunn then added that if the deal goes through, he “gets nothing but pride in the fact that we helped unite a game we love.”

This is a story of development. Please check back for updates.

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