By Anthony Harwood

With its strict etiquette and fondness for clubhouse rules, the game of golf has long prided itself on being one of the last bastions of honour and decency.

The reality, of course, is a bit different, with tales of racism and sexism ever since a ‘No dogs or women allowed’ sign first went up at the home of the sport, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews.

Now the charge of sportswashing can be added to the list after both the men and the women’s European tours announced plans for tournaments in Saudi Arabia this year.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term, ‘sportswashing’ is when countries with poor human rights records use the lure and excitement of glamorous sporting events, such as golf tournaments, to remove stains on their reputation and pretend everything in the garden is rosy.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s worst offenders, reaching international pariah status when it emerged that the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ‘most likely’ ordered the brutal killing of the Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in October 2018.

Riyadh also stands accused of waging a five-year bombing campaign in Yemen, which has caused 100,000 deaths, and sparked a humanitarian disaster which has left 85,000 infants on the brink of starvation.

Then there’s the continued jailing and torture of women’s rights activists, stonings and mass executions, including of people who are gay.

With much to atone for, Saudi Arabia has turned to sport and entertainment to cleanse itself of its bad behaviour and occupy its young population, 70% of whom are under-30.

To this end the authorities are building a £5.9bn entertainment city in the desert which is due to host the country’s first Formula One Grand Prix, and last month was the venue of the world heavyweight title re-match when the British boxer Anthony Joshua beat Andy Ruiz Jr – netting himself £66m – in the much-hyped ‘Clash in the Dunes’.

But what of Scottish golfers such as David Law, who will be playing in the Saudi tournament at the end of this month. The Aberdeen player, who turned pro in 2011, took part in the inaugural event last year in Riyadh, which was held in the immediate aftermath of the Khashoggi killing.

Over the past year Amnesty International has changed its tune on what sports stars should do when offered huge sums of money to compete in the desert kingdom.

It was said they should boycott Saudi Arabia altogether but the human rights charity now accepts they will probably go anyway but while they’re there they should speak out about abuses going on in the country.

What chance of Mr Law taking a stand? Judging from the responses of other players, not very likely.

“I’m not a politician, I’m a pro golfer,” said England’s Justin Rose.

“I’m not going to get into it,” echoed American Brooks Koepka.

Last year’s winner, Dustin Johnson, said simply: “It’s my job to play golf”. And don’t you get paid well for it.

The most unsavoury response came from the former Masters, PGA and Open champion Phil Mickelson who said: “I understand those who are upset or disappointed. You’ll be ok.”.

He said: “After turning down opportunities to go to the Middle East for many years, I’m excited to goplay and see a place in the world I’ve never been.”

When golf writer Ewan Murray suggested Mickelson could still visit the country without doing the high-figured appearance fee and sportswashing bit he replied: “I could, but given the opportunity I have to go and play and compete while visiting, your recommendation just seems stupid to me”, later adding. “You do you, I’m gonna do me.”

Four-time major champion, Rory McIlroy, could not have been clearer where he stood in the issue.

“No, I won’t go and it’s 100% a morality issue”, said the Northern Ireland player. You’re dead right it is – just where did Mickelson leave his moral compass?

Tiger Woods turned down an offer of £2m to play, diplomatically saying the Middle East was too far away to travel to, and Englishman Paul Casey cited ‘unicefgoodwillambassador’. Yes, good call Paul – would have been tricky for a children’s charity spokesman to sportswash a country whose bombing campaign is killing all those Yemeni infants.

Barring them all suddenly coming to their senses, it looks like the European Tour will go to Saudi Arabia at the end of the month, where Mickelson says he looks forward to “doing my bit to grow the game in the kingdom”.

Somehow even more shocking is the decision by the Ladies European Tour to play in Saudi Arabia in March, given the country’s appalling record on women’s rights.

Despite reforms giving women the right to drive and travel abroad, the oppressive male guardianship system still means women have to get permission from a male relative to get married or leave a shelter where they have fled to escape abuse.

More than a hundred women have agreed to take part in the tournament which is being held in Jeddah. Maybe they will reflect on their decision when they realise they will have to ditch their skirts and shorts as women golfers are only allowed to wear long trousers in Saudi Arabia, despite temperatures reaching up to 32C in March. But at least they can now drive themselves to the golf course.

Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail