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LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour: Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund Takes an L in Court

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
A judge denied LIV’s assertion of “sovereign immunity,” requiring the PIF to disclose details about its business practices that it has consistently attempted to keep secret.

GOLF WARS! The ongoing legal battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the moneyed breakaway competition backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF), took another turn this week — one that could provide a breakthrough look into the way the notoriously cagey, tight-lipped entity does business around the world, particularly as it relates to “sportswashing.”

Amid an ongoing war of antitrust litigation between the two golf outfits, Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen of the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that LIV’s claims that the PIF and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, could not be named in any PGA Tour lawsuit due to “sovereign immunity” were not valid, as their dealings satisfy an exception under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act of 1976.

In short, it’s a legal victory for the PGA Tour and a setback for LIV Golf and the PIF that could have unprecedented, wide-ranging implications going forward.

Let’s talk about what all this golf drama means in plain English below.

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What is sovereign immunity?

The doctrine of sovereign immunity exists in several countries and jurisdictions with slight differences among them. In the big picture, it means that governments and heads of state cannot be targeted by lawsuits.

In the United States, that includes state governments and indigenous tribal governments, as well as specific individuals acting on behalf of a government entity. There are notable exceptions to sovereign immunity, however, and Judge van Kuelen determined that the PIF’s activities as they relate to LIV Golf fall within a “commercial activity exception” under US federal law.

Who is Yasir Al-Rumayyan and what is his role in these proceedings?

Al-Rumayyan is the Governor of the Public Investment Fund, as well as the Chairman of Saudi Aramco, an oil company owned by the Saudi Arabian government.

If it does indeed stick, this latest legal ruling is particularly intriguing in that it would not shield Yasir Al-Rumayyan from having to appear in court for a possible deposition.

The precedent this would set is notable, as the PIF has holdings across countless industries beyond just sports and has been notoriously private about its business operations.

What could possibly be contained in these documents that the Public Investment Fund doesn’t want out in the open?

Honestly, you probably don’t want to know — but the federal courts may ultimately decide that the PGA Tour and the general public deserve to know.

What happens next in the LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour legal drama?

LIV will appeal the decision in US District Court, where there is no strong expectation that a different conclusion would be reached. After that, it would be on to the Circuit Court of Appeals. If and when their efforts fail there, the US Supreme Court would be the last resort, but there’s zero guarantee that SCOTUS would take up the case to begin with.

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About The Author
Sam Dunn
Sam Dunn
Sam Dunn is the Managing Editor of Boardroom. Before joining the team, he was an editor and multimedia talent for several sports and culture verticals at Minute Media and an editor, reporter, and site manager at SB Nation. A specialist in content strategy, copywriting, and SEO, he has additionally worked as a digital consultant in the corporate services, retail, and tech industries. He cannot be expected to be impartial on any matter regarding the Florida Gators or Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter @RealFakeSamDunn.