Golf Around the World: When and If to Say No
It was a terrific week for golfer Chris Wood, who won the Qatari Masters in sensational fashion by scoring an eagle on the 18th. With that six-iron to the green and a calm twelve-foot putt, the Englishman from Bristol walked away with his second and most prestigious victory on the European tour. With this win, Wood moves up from a 140 plus ranking, into the top 60. The twenty-five year-old had already put in a promising amateur career, including a handful of wins and coming in as low amateur in the ’08 Open, played at Royal Berkdale. The Quatar was his 115th event. Yes, that’s Wood – no, not Woods. That Woods is out having a good week at Torrey Pines, but that’s another story altogether.
The Qatari Masters is a jewel in the new crown of Middle East involvement with the European tour, along with fellow host, Dhubai. All the greats have played there, and the riches behind these tournaments provide a world-class experience, the one touring pros expect. It’s all part of a blossoming image of Qatar as a fully-functional and pragmatic world community member. It’s all part of attracting more of the world’s most visual “goodies,” and the campaign is thus far successful.
Qatar extolls free speech, except in the case of the national leadership, and this week, they’ve got a public relations problem. Muhammad ibn al Dheeb Al-Ajami, Qatari poet, read one of his poems before a private group gathered at an apartment. It was recorded and became an internet sensation before Al-Ajami found himself in prison for life over the matter. He claims that he was criticizing a fellow poet, but with a general fear of the Arab Spring uprisings, the powers that be are perusing everything for threats to the Emir. Few seem able to detect such a threat, but there Ajami sits, pending appeal.
It scarcely needs to be said that no golf tournament would be played, anywhere in the world, if they depended upon an environment of perfect justice. The progression of golf’s history is filled with valorous firsts, in terms of gender, race, nationality and age. Our own hallowed halls have struggled forward while the grossest cases of government abuse and neglect have gone unchallenged. What makes Qatar any different?
It isn’t, except that such heavy-handed, fear-based actions have been forged into national policy. Al-Ajami’s attorney, Nayeeb al Nauimi, who is a former Qatari Minister of Justice, has the unenviable job of defending Al-Ajami in the appeal. He has the right credentials, though, having served on the defense team for Saddam Hussein.
I can’t generate the slightest “hmph” against Chris Wood or anyone else participating in this tournament. It’s an official event for Europe, a great tour filled with first-rate talent. He should be applauded for this win. Europe, however, might want to take another look at national attitudes and actions such as this, despite the universal knowledge that cultures differ greatly around the world. For Qatar, this local dust-up that has turned into a life sentence for an ordinary citizen may get out of hand. As the poem itself was a brief sensation, so may be the case as it proceeds.
Nothing should tarnish the Englishman’s win this week. He has nothing to do with the Qatari poetry incident. But, if the country wants to keep its new face to the world looking fresh, they may want to ditch the phobias and cut the citizenry some slack. It is, after all, the European Tour, and Europe might want to have something to say about the ideals behind the institution.