FILE PHOTO: Jan 27, 2019; San Diego, CA, USA; Justin Rose plays a shot from a bunker on the 14th hole during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course – South Course. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo
(Reuters) – World number one Justin Rose tried to steer clear of political controversy at his Saudi International pre-tournament news conference on Wednesday, saying he was not qualified to speak on subjects other than golf in “great detail or authority”.
The European Tour is holding its first event in Saudi Arabia against a backdrop of criticism over the choice of venue in the wake of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October and the kingdom’s human rights record.
Rose said the players who taking part were there to support the European Tour’s attempt to grow the sport in the region.
“It’s never straightforward, is it, but I think that obviously we’re here to support The European Tour,” he told reporters. “For me, I think I can only commend their vision in terms of growing the game of golf.
“I’m not qualified to speak on any other subjects to be honest with you in great detail or authority. Between now and 2030, there’s a big push here for golf.
“Hopefully golf is a conduit to bridging the gap between this region and how we perceive golf in the western world.”
The 38-year-old Rose heads a strong field at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, which includes world number two Brooks Koepka and third-ranked fellow American Dustin Johnson.
The golfers are not the only ones facing questions about participation in the event, with performers, including pop star Mariah Carey, rapper Sean Paul and DJ Tiesto, set to appear at King Abdullah Economic City as part of the tournament.
Carey has been urged by activists, including U.S.-based women-led peace and human rights group CodePink, to either cancel her performance or use the platform to call for the Saudi regime to release imprisoned women’s rights campaigners.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris