Rory McIlroy defends players’ boycott of Saudi Arabia tournament

Former No. 1-ranked golfer Rory McIlroy was not critical of the global boycott of the Saudi Arabia Masters by several of his colleagues, although he nonetheless said the decision of some players to back out was a personal one.

Several stars have abandoned the tournament in response to the Saudis’ decision to continue with a show of support for imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison after insulting Islam.

McIlroy said Thursday it was up to the players to decide whether they wanted to play.

“I don’t know. I’m at the forefront of the Europeans and I don’t know everyone else’s feelings on it,” the Northern Irishman said in a tournament news conference. “Every individual makes their own decision about how they’re going to feel about something and they felt differently about it.

“It’s not a cricket score sort of thing, it’s more about us as individuals and their beliefs. Ultimately, it’s for them to decide whether or not they want to go. It’s not for me to make a decision about, it’s just my decision.”

As a former world No. 1, McIlroy has won more than $47 million.

McIlroy said he knew the game of golf has “seen certain things before,” referring to China’s tactics in hosting the 2008 Olympics.

Last month, world No. 1 Jason Day also said he would not be playing in the Saudi Masters, which is also scheduled to be held in March.

Rory Sabbatini joined McIlroy in deciding not to play in the tournament, saying he wants to “make sure my point of view is taken into consideration. I feel there have been issues between players and the Saudi Arabian government over Raif Badawi.”

In a statement Thursday, the tournament organizers apologized for any actions taken during the tournament’s preparation that may have caused the players to withdraw, adding that they were “confident the state of the game of golf in Saudi Arabia and the country’s hosting of the tournament in March is as strong as ever.”

The tournament also invited other “big names” to attend the final day.

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