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Saudi-funded golf series puts new scrutiny on Mickelson


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ST. ALBANS, England (AP) — Out of public view for four months, Phil Mickelson returns to golf under severe scrutiny because of where he’s playing and who is paying him.

Mickelson is a six-time major champion, the most popular golfer this side of Tiger Woods. And now he is being referred to as a “stooge” by a human rights group for being among 48 players who have signed up for a rebel golf league backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

“I don’t condone human rights violations,” Mickelson responded hesitatingly, choosing his words carefully at a terse news conference Wednesday.

Mickelson, who last year made history as the oldest major champion in golf’s 161-year history, and Dustin Johnson are the leading faces of the LIV Golf Invitational series, the greatest threat to the PGA Tour since it was formed in 1969.

Along with disrupting the royal and ancient game, it has forced Mickelson and others to weigh the value of taking more money than they have earned in their careers against the kingdom’s notorious record on human rights.

The cash being offered by LIV Golf is irresistible, especially for players like the 51-year-old Mickelson in the twilight of their careers. Signing bonus have been reported as high as $150 million for Johnson, even higher for Mickelson.

The Washington Post quoted Greg Norman, who oversees the circuit, as saying that Woods turned down an offer described as “high nine digits.”

There is $25 million in prize money at each event — more than the $20 million for the PGA Tour’s flagship event — with the winner banking $4 million and the last-place player earning $120,000. The circuit’s first event begins Thursday at the Centurion Golf Club near London.

It just requires players to potentially jeopardize their future participation in majors like the Masters, and in the Ryder Cup, while overlooking the riches flow from the Public Investment Fund and facing a torrent of questions about accepting cash from Saudi Arabia, which has faced a global outcry over the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and other human rights violations. The kingdom has denied involvement in Khashoggi’s death.

It was Mickelson who called the Saudis “scary mother-(expletives)” in comments reported in February, citing Khashoggi’s murder in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

“I’ve made, said and done a lot of things that I regret, and I’m sorry for that and for the hurt that it’s caused a lot of people,” he said. “I’m certainly aware of what has happened with Jamal Khashoggi, and I think it’s terrible. I’ve also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history.”

What is not clear is how LIV Golf can help to improve Saudi Arabia beyond burnishing its image, although there is little evidence of the country’s backing for the series around the Centurion Club in St. Albans.

“I understand people have very strong opinions and may disagree with my decision,” Mickelson said when asked to expand on his apology, “and I can empathize with that.”

Human rights activists see the players as engaging in the process they call “sportswashing” — helping a country improve its image through staging events with renowned athletes.

“Saudi Arabia has become more repressive in recent years, not less,” said Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International UK. “Human rights defenders and peaceful critics have been locked up, torture in jails is rife, and mass executions have shocked the world. Rather than acting as the willing stooges of Saudi sportswashing, we’d like to see golfers at the LIV Golf Invitational speaking out about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.”

The 16 golfers to face the media outside London — shepherded by news conference co-host and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer — have faced few questions about the competition itself. The 54-hole tournament has no cut and a shotgun start, meaning everyone starts at the same time on a different hole. No other tournament in the world does that.

The series name LIV — which rhymes with “give” — takes its name from the Roman numerals for 54.

Former top-ranked Lee Westwood had no qualms about acknowledging the cash incentives to join the series.

“This is my 29th season,” the 49-year-old Englishman said. “If there’s a pay increase, then at my age, I’d have to be stupid not to take it, or certainly have a good look at it and then not take it.”

It was also taken by 46-year-old compatriot, Ian Poulter, who stands to improve rapidly on the $28 million earned in career prize money.

“It is a vast sum of money,” Poulter said of LIV, “but it’s a great platform to be able to build the game of golf and give back at the same time.”

Only one of the eight events is in Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah in October. Five tournaments are scheduled for the United States, starting July 1-3 near Portland, Oregon. Two are on courses owned by former President Donald Trump. It poses a direct challenge to the PGA Tour because its regulations do not allow for any releases for tournaments held in North America.

Mickelson has resisted quitting the PGA Tour, unlike two-time major winner Dustin Johnson who has resigned his membership.

Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion who sunk the winning putt in the Ryder Cup in the same year, is aware of the potential disciplinary consequences by going off to compete on the LIV circuit while not severing ties with the PGA.

“Why as a player, would I want to get involved in some sort of legal situation with one of the greatest tours in the world?” McDowell said.

The PGA Tour has said a member who plays in the LIV series would face discipline because it did not grant releases. It has not said what that would be, though Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a player meeting earlier this year they would be disbarred.

The players joining LIV hope the PGA Tour, along with the European tour, allows players to compete where they want and that LIV becomes just another circuit that counts for ranking points feeding into the majors.


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Rob Harris, The Associated Press

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Effect of pandemic border restrictions could be long-lasting: Critics

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BANFF, Alta. — The last of Canada’s COVID-19 border restrictions are set to disappear at the end of this month, but some critics say they fear the measures have already caused a lasting decrease in cross-border travel.

At the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta. on Friday, prominent voices who have been arguing for months in favour of the lifting of restrictions such as mandatory vaccinations, testing and quarantine requirements for international visitors said they’re now worried the economic impacts of such measures could be permanent.

In a panel discussion at what is an annual conference for business leaders in Canada’s most-visited national park, Meredith Lilly – an associate professor at Carleton University and a former international trade advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper – said cross-border day trips by Canadians to the U.S. never fully recovered after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

She said her research has showed part of that is due to the heightened U.S. border controls put in place after that event.

“Fewer Canadians travelled to the United States to shop or fill up their tank of gas because of the unfriendly border,” Lilly said.

“Canada is now doing the same thing to Americans. So it’s going to take major effort to get Americans to come back.”

Earlier this week, federal government sources confirmed the cabinet order maintaining COVID-19 border measures will not be renewed when it expires on Sept. 30.

The change means international travellers will no longer have to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Under the current rule, Canadians returning to the country who aren’t vaccinated must show a negative COVID-19 test result before arriving, and undergo further testing after arrival. They also must quarantine for 14 days.

The expiry also spells the end of insisting travellers use the ArriveCan app to input their vaccine status and test results, though the app will live on as an optional tool for customs and immigration.

But Lilly said the two-and-a-half years that pandemic-related border rules were in place was likely long enough to change the habits of some Americans, who will now no longer consider visiting Canada in the future.

Statistics Canada reported Friday that the number of international arrivals to this country increased in July even as they remain well below pre-pandemic levels.

The agency said the number of trips by U.S. residents in July was 2.2 million, 11 times the number of trips taken in July 2021, but still about 60 per cent of the trips reported in July 2019.

“So the picture still isn’t great,” Lilly said. “And three years is a long time for people to permanently change their behaviour.”

Canadian Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Perrin Beatty, who also spoke in Banff Friday, said this country’s tourism industry has now missed out on two summer seasons.

He said multiple medical experts have argued that testing asymptomatic travellers for COVID-19 at the border is far less effective than testing symptomatic Canadians within their communities.

“We’ve maintained these restrictions that simply make no sense. The cost to us, for small businesses in every part of this country, of the friction that we’ve put on at the border has been billions of dollars,” Beatty said.

“And we’re out of step with other countries around the world, we’re out of step with the science, and we’re out of step with the rest of Canadian society because of these self-inflicted wounds we’ve put on ourselves.”

A report released by the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable on Friday aimed to assess the impact and effectiveness of border measures and other travel restrictions implemented by the federal government to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The report, which was authored by four Canadian doctors specializing in infectious diseases, emergency medicine and pandemic management, concluded border measures have been largely ineffective at preventing new COVID-19 variants from entering the country.

It also said there is no convincing evidence that pre-departure and on-arrival testing and surveillance have had a significant impact on local transmission in Canadian communities.

The expiry of the cabinet order on Sept. 30 doesn’t deal with whether passengers must wear masks on domestic and international trains and planes because that rule is contained in a separate order issued by the minister of transport.

The tourism industry has argued masking on planes is also “inconsistent” from a policy perspective, given that the high air exchange rates on passenger aircraft make them one of the safest ways to travel from a COVID-19 perspective.

“But the government of Canada is saying the single most dangerous thing you can be doing is travelling by air,” Beatty said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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Dow sinks to 2022 low as recession fears roil world markets

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BEIJING — Stocks fell sharply worldwide Friday on worries an already slowing global economy could fall into recession as central banks raise the pressure with additional interest rate hikes.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.6%, closing at its lowest level since late 2020. The S&P 500 fell 1.7%, close to its 2022 low set in mid-June, while the Nasdaq slid 1.8%.

The selling capped another rough week on Wall Street, leaving the major indexes with their fifth weekly loss in six weeks.

Energy prices closed sharply lower as traders worried about a possible recession. Treasury yields, which affect rates on mortgages and other kinds of loans, held at multiyear highs.

European stocks fell just as sharply or more after preliminary data there suggested business activity had its worst monthly contraction since the start of 2021. Adding to the pressure was a new plan announced in London to cut taxes, which sent U.K. yields soaring because it could ultimately force its central bank to raise rates even more sharply.

The Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world aggressively hiked interest rates this week in hopes of undercutting high inflation, with more big increases promised for the future. Such moves put the brakes on economies by design, in hopes that slower purchases by households and businesses will deflate inflationary pressures. But they also threaten a recession, if they rise too far or too quickly.

Besides Friday’s discouraging data on European business activity, a separate report suggested U.S. activity is also still shrinking, though not quite as badly as in earlier months.

“Financial markets are now fully absorbing the Fed’s harsh message that there will be no retreat from the inflation fight,” Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a research report.

U.S. crude oil prices slid 5.7% to their lowest levels since early this year on worries that a weaker global economy will burn less fuel. Cryptocurrency prices also fell sharply because higher interest rates tend to hit hardest the investments that look the priciest or the most risky.

Even gold fell in the worldwide rout, as bonds paying higher yields make investments that pay no interest look less attractive. Meanwhile the U.S. dollar has been moving sharply higher against other currencies. That can hurt profits for U.S. companies with lots of overseas business, as well as put a financial squeeze on much of the developing world.

The S&P 500 fell 64.76 points to 3,693.23, its fourth straight drop. The Dow, which at one point was down more than 800 points, lost 486.27 points to close at 29,590.41. The Nasdaq fell 198.88 points to 10,867.93.

Smaller company stocks did even worse. The Russell 2000 fell 42.72 points, or 2.5%, to close at 1,679.59.

More than 85% of stocks in the S&P 500 closed in the red, with technology companies, retailers and banks among the biggest weights on the benchmark index.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lifted its benchmark rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, to a range of 3% to 3.25%. It was at virtually zero at the start of the year. The Fed also released a forecast suggesting its benchmark rate could be 4.4% by the year’s end, a full point higher than envisioned in June.

Treasury yields have climbed to multiyear highs as interest rates rise. The yield on the 2-year Treasury, which tends to follow expectations for Federal Reserve action, rose to 4.20% from 4.12% late Thursday. It is trading at its highest level since 2007. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which influences mortgage rates, slipped to 3.69% from 3.71%.

Goldman Sachs strategists say a majority of their clients now see a “hard landing” that pulls the economy sharply lower as inevitable. The question for them is just on the timing, magnitude and length of a potential recession.

Higher interest rates hurt all kinds of investments, but stocks could stay steady as long as corporate profits grow strongly. The problem is that many analysts are beginning to cut their forecasts for upcoming earnings because of higher rates and worries about a possible recession.

“Increasingly, market psychology has transitioned from concerns over inflation to worries that, at a minimum, corporate profits will decline as economic growth slows demand,” said Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist for LPL Financial.

In the U.S., the jobs market has remained remarkably solid, and many analysts think the economy grew in the summer quarter after shrinking in the first six months of the year. But the encouraging signs also suggest the Fed may have to jack rates even higher to get the cooling needed to bring down inflation.

Some key areas of the economy are already weakening. Mortgage rates have reached 14-year highs, causing sales of existing homes to drop 20% in the past year. But other areas that do best when rates are low are also hurting.

In Europe, meanwhile, the already fragile economy is dealing with the effects of war on its eastern front following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The European Central Bank is hiking its key interest rate to combat inflation even as the region’s economy is already expected to plunge into a recession. And in Asia, China’s economy is contending with still-strict measures meant to limit COVID infections that also hurt businesses.

While Friday’s economic reports were discouraging, few on Wall Street saw them as enough to convince the Fed and other central banks to soften their stance on raising rates. So they just reinforced the fear that rates will keep rising in the face of already slowing economies.

Economics Writer Christopher Rugaber and Business Writers Joe McDonald and Matt Ott contributed to this report.

Damian J. Troise And Alex Veiga, The Associated Press

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september, 2022

tue27sep10:00 am4:00 pmCACPC Annual SHRED Event10:00 am - 4:00 pm MST The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, 4311-49 Ave Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre