Husband of USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland is working with LIV Golf venture

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As the controversial Saudi-funded LIV Golf league plays its first tournament in the United States later this week near Portland, Oregon, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland confirmed Monday to USA TODAY Sports that her husband, Keith, a veteran golf television producer, is “a contractor for LIV.”

When asked about her husband’s role with LIV Golf, Hirshland, who has led the USOPC for nearly four years and is considered the highest-ranking woman in American sports, texted:

“I can confirm he is a contractor for LIV. Beyond that, I will not comment on my husband’s employment, nor speak on his behalf. We are both professionals who have made, and will continue to make, individual career decisions. In the year 2022, it’s my hope that women will not be defined by their husbands’ careers.”

She continued: “In my role as CEO of the USOPC, and supporter of the Olympic and Paralympic movements, I am steadfast in my resolve to uphold the ideals of the Olympic values. I will always advocate for sport as a pathway to peace and understanding among communities and cultures. That is my focus.”

Keith Hirshland did not respond to a message Sunday night seeking comment.

Over the past month, news of PGA Tour defections for extraordinary amounts of Saudi money — a reported $200 million for Phil Mickelson, for example — has roiled men’s golf and become the leading story in the sports world.

In addition to Mickelson, big names such as Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau have left for the huge paydays and exhibition-style, 54-hole, no-cut tournaments of LIV Golf.

The new tour has also brought in broadcasters Arlo White, a former NBC Sports Premier League announcer, and longtime Golf Channel reporter Jerry Foltz, LIV Golf announced earlier this month. The tournaments are not available on over-the-air or cable television but are being streamed on LIV Golf’s website as well as on YouTube and Facebook.

LIV Golf spokespeople were sent several emails from USA TODAY Sports over the past few weeks asking about Keith Hirshland’s role with their broadcast team, including on Monday, but declined to confirm his employment or his specific role or title.

LIV Golf is financed by the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund, which is controlled by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. MBS, as he is known, sanctioned the 2018 murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, according to human rights organizations and U.S. intelligence agencies.

Various individuals and groups, including Khashoggi’s fiancee, a 9/11 families organization and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D.-Ore., have been critical of the involvement of American golfers in the Saudi venture.

“They are helping the Saudi regime ‘sportswash’ their reputation in return for tens of millions of dollars,” Terry Strada, national chair of 9/11 Families United, said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports June 13. “As the PGA Tour commissioner said Sunday, ‘you’d have to be living under a rock’ to not understand the implications of involving yourself with the Saudis.”

Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis.

In a June 16 phone interview, Wyden was asked by USA TODAY Sports what he would say to Mickelson about his involvement with the Saudis.

“I would just say, this is wrong,” Wyden said. “I went to school on a basketball scholarship. I believe deeply in the role of sports helping to promote goodwill. I would tell Mr. Mickelson, you can do better than this. You can be far better than this, you’re clearly going to have loads of opportunities to make very substantial sums of money, but you can do it in a way that doesn’t reward those with blood-stained hands.”

On April 25, mayors from 11 Oregon cities near Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, the site of this week’s LIV Golf tournament, wrote a letter expressing similar concerns.

“We oppose this event because it is being sponsored by a repressive government whose human rights abuses are documented,” the mayors said. “We refuse to support these abuses by complicitly allowing the Saudi-backed organization to play in our backyard.”

According to LIV Golf, the players in this week’s tournament will play for $25 million in prize money. Earlier this month, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suspended 17 golfers who left the tour to play in the first LIV Golf tournament in London.

“The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in attempt to buy the game of golf,” Monahan said last week. “We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi golf league is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”

Contributing: Tom Schad, Associated Press