Celebrities have been flocking to Saudi Arabia in recent months. Some have been invited to explore the kingdom (and post about their experience on social media), while others have been invited to perform to sold-out crowds. Some, however, have declined offers from Saudi Arabia including rapper Nicki Minaj and more recently, Tiger Woods.
On Tuesday, American professional golfer said he turned down offers to play in the Saudi International golf tournament, despite a reportedly hefty appearance fee of $3 million. According to ESPN's Bob Harig, this would be the second time Woods turns down an offer to play in the Saudi tournament; he was first offered to play in 2018. In an interview with ESPN, the golfer suggested that the politics of it all had nothing to do with his decision.
"I just don't want to go over there," Woods told ESPN. "It's a long way."
The upcoming tournament is scheduled to take place at the beginning of 2020, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.
Despite having declined the offer, Woods defended American golfer Phil Mickelson's decision to play in the 2020 event. The latter is the latest public figure to be subject to backlash for accepting Saudi Arabia's offer.
Rights groups have been urging international celebrities and artists to decline visits to the kingdom over human rights abuses. In the case of U.S.-based rapper Nicki Minaj, it worked. In a show of solidarity with women's rights, LGBTIQ+ rights, and freedom of expression, the rapper canceled her scheduled concert in the kingdom, which was set to take place on July 18, following pressure from external rights groups.
"I understand those who are upset or disappointed. You'll be OK. I'm excited to experience this for the first time," Mickelson said in the aftermath of the criticism.
For Woods, Mickelson's decision may be a positive thing for the game of golf.
"I understand the politics behind it but also the game of golf can help heal a lot of that, too. It can help grow it [the game], and also a lot of top players are going to be playing there," Woods said.
"It's traditionally not a golf hotbed, the Middle East. But it has grown quite a bit. I remember going to Dubai for my very first time and seeing maybe two or three buildings in the skyline. Now there is a New York City skyline. Again, golf has grown. There were only a few courses when I went to Dubai and now they're everywhere. Same with Abu Dhabi, and maybe eventually in Saudi Arabia."