Richard Bland will play Saudi-backed LIV Golf event near London despite risk of ban - jobs fights tigma
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Richard Bland will play Saudi-backed LIV Golf event near London despite risk of ban

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Richard Bland will play Saudi-backed LIV Golf event near London despite risk of ban

Richard Bland looks on in disbelief after winning the British Masters in 2021
Richard Bland won his first event on Tour at the 478th event last May as he won the British Masters
Venue: Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa, Oklahoma Date: 19-22 May
Coverage: Live text updates of all four rounds on BBC Sport website. Radio 5 Live updates of rounds one and two. Saturday’s round three live on Radio 5 Sports Extra from 20:00 BST. Sunday’s final round on 5 Live from 21:00

Richard Bland says he will play in next month’s inaugural LIV Golf Invitational tournament even if it leads to him being banned by the DP World Tour.

The Saudi-funded event, being held near London from 9-11 June, has a prize fund of £ 20m with £ 3.2m for the winner.

The Europe-based DP World Tour has threatened bans for its players who compete in the event at Centurion Club.

“I’m going to play. If I get banned, I get banned,” Englishman Bland told BBC Radio Solent.

“Most of my career is behind me now as regards playing at the very highest level. I’m 50 years old in six months.

“I’m a realist. Mother nature does tend to catch up on you. I have an opportunity to play these events and secure my future and I’d be pretty foolish to turn that down,” added the world number 48, who is the first highly ranked player to confirm he will play at the event.

Bland said he had asked the DP World Tour – formerly European Tour – for an exemption to be able to play in the 54-hole event.

“I have not been granted the release; I pretty much knew that a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

“Everybody has their own opinion and are they going to play or not going to play; you can only do what’s best for yourself.

“I understand some people might not like that but it’s an opportunity for me to make the next stage of my life very comfortable and how can I turn that down?”

June’s tournament is the first of eight invitational tournaments being run in 2022 by the Greg Norman-fronted LIV Golf Investments – the majority of which are taking place in the United States.

The 67-year-old former world number one told BBC Sport last week that he has secured £ 1.6bn of extra funding from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to build his breakaway series into a full super league by 2024.

Norman insists Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of ‘sportswashing’ its heavily criticized human rights record with this project, among many others, is in it to make a financial return ultimately.

Bland, who has won more than £ 6m since turning professional in 1996, is enjoying something of a renaissance in the latter stages of his career.

He hit the headlines in May 2021 when he won the British Masters, his first European Tour event in his 478th start and eight top-10 finishes last season led to him finishing a career-best 11th in the Race to Dubai rankings.

Bland won around £ 300,000 for that victory. Approximately £ 205m will be won across the eight LIV Golf events – and with no cuts, the player finishing last in the 48-man field will collect around £ 100,000.

He is in Oklahoma this week for the second men’s major of the year, the US PGA Championship, which pays out £ 1.75m to the winner – around half of the prize on offer at Centurion – although the prestige of winning a major is arguably priceless .

“The talk of the town is the LIV event; it’s all the players are talking about,” he continued.

Several players from the PGA and DP World Tours have been seeking waivers to allow them to play in the event, including Bland’s fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, but last week, the PGA Tour issued a statement saying it was blocking its members from playing.

Norman called that move “anti-golfer, anti-fan and anti-competitive”.

When asked if was worried about getting banned by the DP World Tour, Bland replied: “That’s something I’m prepared to put up with and take on the chin.

“We’ll see what they are and what the repercussions are. No-one really knows. I’ve spoken to [DP World Tour chief executive] Keith Pelley but he’s keeping his cards close to his chest so I do not think anyone really knows. “

And given the fact other sports have been played in Saudi Arabia, while the PIF has funded 80% of the £ 305m takeover of Premier League side Newcastle United, Bland thinks golf is “getting a bit of a rough end of the stick”.

“I know [former heavyweight world champion boxer] Anthony Joshua has fought out there, F1’s been out there, they do not seem to be getting the bad press that golf’s getting, “he said.

“I know Lee [Westwood] commented on that at the British Masters and I’m of the same opinion as he is, I do not get why we’re getting the rough end of the stick but I’m sure someone will tell me and that’s their opinion.

“I plan to play those events. That’s the decision I’ve taken and some people will agree with it and some won’t and that’s fine.”

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