Legal panel are set to decide if LIV rebels can continue on World Tour

An arbitration panel are set to decide if LIV rebels can continue on DP World Tour… but will they be able to heal Europe’s great Saudi schism?

  • An arbitration panel of three in London will discuss the LIV rebels this week
  • In the next five days, the panel will decide over their inclusion in DP World Tour
  • Three players, including Sergio Garcia, withdrew their name from the hearing 

Across three days last June, in an otherwise quiet corner of Hemel Hempstead, a volcano by the name of LIV erupted. 

Starting on Monday for five days, an arbitration panel of three in London will attempt to clean up at least some of the mess.

It has been an awfully long eight months in the smouldering world of golf. When Dustin Johnson stood on the first at Centurion Club at 2.15pm and hit the opening drive of Greg Norman’s breakaway series, it echoed with the knowledge that his sport would never be the same again. To date, that has been the only certainty of this entire saga.

To that end, there is finally hope that a whiff of clarity might emanate from a meeting room in St Paul’s, which belongs to the arbitration body Sports Resolutions. 

Before a panel of three KCs, chaired by the Honorable Phillip Sycamore CBE, five days of arguments will be heard between lawyers for a group of 13 LIV golfers and those of the DP World Tour that will, optimistically, allow a pathway to a semblance of balance in the ecosystem.

Ian Poulter is one of the LIV rebels who’s DP World Tour future is set to be decided this week

Rory McIlroy was embroiled in drama with Patrick Reed during the Dubai Desert Classic

To say that golf needs it would be a wild understatement. From the snub and the tossed tee between Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed in Dubai last week, to the cold shoulder felt by the likes of Tour legends-turned-defectors such as Lee Westwood, the rows have been explosive.

It is easy and incorrect to view the debate as a good-versus-evil saga, within which it can be tempting to conflate a distaste for Saudi sportwashing with what is, in essence, a fight for power by traditional and new circuits, and a grab for cash by golfers already fabulously rich.

Both sides have some reasonable arguments, but in the dusty shades of legalise, most will agree with the sentiment shared by Westwood last month: ‘I look at the Tour now and wonder what it is. With the hearing, there is going to be some sort of line drawing in the sand. Clarity will be good because everything has been so vague, too vague.’

Here, The Mail on Sunday explains what is to come and what it might mean for LIV, the European circuit and the Ryder Cup…

What is being decided? 

First off, this hearing in London is limited to what happens next with the European circuit — it is not to be confused with a separate action in the US between LIV and the PGA Tour, which will occur in early 2024.

In the European instance, the DP World Tour and 13 players signed to LIV are pushing for a resolution to a dispute that originated once a number of the latter competed against the Tour’s will at Centurion. The DP World Tour’s response had been to issue a ban from the Scottish Open and two other events co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour as well handing out a £100,000 fine.

Three rebels — Ian Poulter, Adrian Otaegui and Justin Harding — challenged the ruling via Sports Resolutions and on July 5 were granted a stay of the sanctions, which has had the upshot of LIV golfers playing on the DP World Tour ever since. Sports Resolutions will effectively decide if they have to right to continue to do so.

Adrian Otaegui was one of the rebels who challenged a recent ruling against LIV participants

What’s the DP World Tour’s stance?

In a briefing with reporters at the Dubai Desert Classic last week, Tour director of communications Scott Crockett and CEO Keith Pelley laid out their position. 

‘The hearing centres solely on our conflicting event release regulation and our ability to enforce it,’ Crockett said. 

‘Every member signs up to our regulations when they pay their membership fees each year. There are precedents where they have not been granted in the past.’ 

As the most recent example of the precedent Crockett referenced, the Austrian Matthias Schwab asked for a release to play in the Sanderson Farms event on the PGA TOUR in October 2020 which, at that time, was up against the Scottish Open on the DP World Tour schedule. The request was refused, but Schwab played and was fined.

Rory McIlroy was in great form throughout the Dubai Desert Classic last month

The rebel stance?

The LIV players see it as an unfair restraint of trade, and often to point to how European-based golfers would regularly play without challenge on the PGA Tour, with whom the DP World Tour now have a strategic alliance. 

As explained by Henrik Stenson, who lost the Ryder Cup captaincy in the wider LIV fallout: ‘There are multiple tours in the world — as long as you fulfill your (membership) criteria and earn your right to be there, you should be able to play in as many tournaments as you like.’

Who are LIV players in this process?

They currently number 13 — Poulter, Otaegui, Harding, Westwood, Sam Horsfield, Richard Bland, Shaun Norris, Laurie Canter, Wade Ormsby, Reed, Bernd Wiesberger, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer. 

Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace all withdrew last month.

Sergio Garcia was one of three players to remove their name from the hearing last month

Who’s going to win?

While it is nigh on impossible to predict, there is a feeling around the sport that the LIV players have a particularly strong case. 

That said, there is a mischievous school of thought that the DP World Tour could benefit from losing, given their fields might benefit from an influx of global stars otherwise ostracised from the PGA Tour.

What about the Ryder Cup?

That remains unclear, though automatic qualification will plainly be made challenging or impossible in the absence of playing on the Tour. 

Pelley confirmed Honorary Members of the Tour such as Garcia would still be eligible for a captain’s pick, though the likelihood is slim with McIlroy such a staunch opponent of their involvement. 

The player among defectors with the most realistic chance of qualification is Otaegui.

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