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OPINION: By Ignoring Golf’s Ties To Emirates, We Risk Hypocrisy

Flanked by Emiratis, Tommy Fleetwood holds up the trophy after winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in the United Arab Emirates. Photo Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers did the right thing. Begrudgingly for some, sure, but women are not just part of the fabric of golf, they are the engine that drives most of the game’s growth. Excluding them from membership is sexist and silly.

RELATED STORY, March 14, 2017: Muirfield Takes Mulligan, Votes in Women

RELATED STORY, March 15, 2017: McIlroy Lets ‘er Rip When Asked About Muirfield

Of course, private-club members have the right to associate with whomever they wish. If members of Muirfield, Black Sheep, Burning Tree Club or the Ladies Golf Club of Toronto want to exclude half the population, that’s their right, just as it is our right to call them out on it. Inclusion is the future, people. You should give it a whirl or plan on going the way of the buggy-whip in a decade or two.

However (and you knew there was a “however,”), the strong-arm tactics and faux outrage exhibited by some in golf’s ruling class (not to mention members of the media who get their knickers in a twist far too often) have become a bit much, especially since the vote everyone is praising out of Muirfield occurred the same week that a couple in the United Arab Emirates, arrested on charges of having premarital sex, finally were released from jail after being detained on Jan. 29.

Why are These Laws Tolerated?

The couple, South African Emlyn Culverwell and his Ukrainian fiancée, Iryna Nohai, were charged under the UAE’s Islamic laws forbidding sex outside of marriage after Iryna went to a local Abu Dhabi hospital with stomach pains and doctors discovered that she was pregnant. The couple could have faced up to two years imprisonment before authorities were persuaded to change their minds and dropped charges last week.

This follows a 2013 case in which a Norwegian woman, who reported being raped in Dubai, was sentenced to 16 months behind bars on charges of unwed sex and drinking alcohol. She later was pardoned and allowed to leave the country. Her accused rapists were never charged.

Homosexuality is also illegal in the Emirates and can be punishable by death through either hanging or stoning, depending on the judge. A lenient jurist might only sentence a gay person to a public lashing.

Golf’s Major Presence in United Arab Emirates

This is important because the European Tour’s season-long money title is “The Race to Dubai.” In fact, the Tour already has played two events this year in the Emirates, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, won by Tommy Fleetwood, and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, won by Sergio García. The final event of the tour’s new Rolex Series, the DP World Tour Championship, will, as always, be contested in Dubai where a sheik in full, white kandoorah will award the trophy on Sunday afternoon.

Are the same opinion writers who have been howling at the men of Muirfield about their policy toward women demanding that golf sever ties with the Emiratis? If so, I haven’t seen it.

Have the sponsors – HSBC, Omega, Rolex and others, including worldwide television partners – received the same pressure that came to bear on the official partners of the Open Championship before the R&A revised its policies on gender discrimination? Maybe they have, but I haven’t seen it.

And a question for all of us: Are Arabs in the Emirates held to a lower standard of behavior by the golf world than the gentlemen of Edinburgh? If so, why?

It is fine to ignore the tour taking money from the Emiratis and ignoring their laws and customs. But it’s not OK to then take a high-and-mighty position against an all-male club in Edinburgh, Tokyo, or Chicago where the policies are far less backward and arcane.



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