• Challenge Cup takes place from 28-30 October at King Abdullah City • ‘It is not a debate about whether the golfers should play’
Rory McIlroy has defended the players’ right to choose whether to play in the Saudi Arabian event set to take place at the end of October.
“The players have a right to choose to play anywhere they want,” the Northern Irishman told Sky Sports News. “I understand there is a lot of concern with what’s going on in Saudi Arabia and there’s been a lot of media coverage and that’s not something I’m proud of at all.
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“But they have a right to choose and they are professional athletes and you’ve got to do things that are the right thing.”
Other players such as Lee Westwood and Nick O’Hern have also voiced their concerns over the event, which has been given the go-ahead despite being heavily criticised as being inappropriate given recent concerns about human rights in the country.
“The only reason I agreed to play is if they came in the right place and they bought the event for the right reasons,” said the Australian O’Hern. “It’s not a debate about whether the golfers should play. I just want to play golf in a venue. If there’s another tournament in the world that would be the one that I would play.”
Padraig Harrington was more forthright in his stance, saying: “I don’t really care about the principle but I do care about the consequences of that. I don’t think it’s the right venue at the wrong time.
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“I’ve never played a professional tournament that’s been in that environment before. I have a higher opinion of the people in that country. I would not like to be next in line if a number of players don’t feel comfortable.
“I’ve always thought of that place [KSA] as a lovely place and a warm country and I would say no more.”
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Westwood agreed and is currently unsure whether he will take part. “Honestly, I honestly don’t know,” the Englishman said. “I’m not going to go on about it too much but I’ve had a couple of emails from officials about it and the athletes council that they’ve put together to try and deal with it.
“Obviously there’s been some comments about it but it’s just that something that is there and like I said I don’t really care about the principle of it. I don’t think it’s the right venue at the wrong time, but they’ve given the right people the right information to make an educated decision.”
The All England Club has also dismissed concerns over the event, stating: “The 2018 British Open will be played at Royal Birkdale, in the Lancashire seaside town of Southport, between 23 and 27 July. The R&A is confident that these decisions will be of benefit to all involved, including the players.”