The Saudi Golf League And Other Breakaway Competitions In Sport

We take a look at six sports that had to contend with similar problems to golf
17:10, 12 May 2022

There appears to be a civil war looming in golf as the PGA Tour continues to fight back against the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series, denying the requests of Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood to be released to play in the controversial competition next month. 

The current divide comes as a result of the money players receive, with some stars wanting to go and earn a bigger pay packet than they would on the PGA Tour. The PGA has said that players who take part would be violating their regulations and we are yet to see what happens should players go and play in the invitational. Right now, it doesn’t appear that this conflict will be resolved any time soon and the sport faces a potential crisis.

Golf is not the first sport to have been faced with a breakaway. Below we take a look at six other sports that had to contend with similar problems. 

Football

It was April 2021 and the world of football was shaken to the core when the European Super League was unveiled. Some of the best clubs in Europe looked set to depart their domestic leagues and compete against one another in a tournament designed for the elite to help line the pockets of those in charge at the world’s biggest clubs. Thankfully fan power and the media brought a swift end to the poisonous proposal that had the potential to kill the beautiful game.

Cricket

When Zee Entertainment Enterprises launched the private Indian Cricket League, the Board of Control for Cricket in India formed the Indian Premier League in 2007 as the ICL was not recognised by the board or International Cricket Council. After issuing lifetime bans for several international players who joined the ICL, the BCCI launched its own Twenty20 competition in 2008 and ultimately led to the downfall of the ICL which ceased to operate a year later.

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Formula 1

Breakaway threats have been an ever-present in F1 over the years, particularly since it has become such a commercialised product with threats being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations. In 2009, Ferrari and eight other teams said they were planning to set up their own championship but it was quickly quashed when they came to an agreement with F1.

Tennis

In 1968, at the dawn of the Open Era, Billie Jean King and eight other female professionals (dubbed the Original 9) launched a campaign to earn equal prize money to their male counterparts. They tussled with the tennis establishment and broke away to form the Virginia Slims circuit. The United States Lawn Tennis Association issued bans to the Original 9, but their actions paved the way for the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973.

Rugby League

Famously dubbed the Super League War, this rugby league civil war arose in Australia as a result of a battle for television rights. It stemmed from media magnate Rupert Murdoch trying to monopolise coverage in Australia. Murdoch wasn’t happy with the relationship between Australian Rugby League and Kerry Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited which broadcast matches on Nine Network free to air. Some ARL teams were poached for Super League and the two leagues coexisted with one another until financial strains because of the split in the market led to the two joining forces, forming the National Rugby League.

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Swimming

Ukrainian billionaire Konstantin Grigorishin founded the International Swimming League with a $20 million budget in 2017. The sport’s global governing body FINA responded by urging national federations to refuse cooperation with this new competition and threatened bans to those who would compete. 

When swimmers including Adam Peaty became disillusioned with FINA’s governance, they threatened to create an independent swimmers’ union in 2018. This led to FINA back-tracking and allowing athletes to partake in their non-sanctioned competitions in the future, including the maiden ISL season in 2019. 

Darts

As a result of dropping viewership, the top 16-ranked players broke away from the British Darts Organisation to form the World Darts Council. The BDO banned all 16 from their sanctioned events but after a lengthy legal battle, the body recognised in 1997 their right to choose the organisation they played for. This led to the WDC recognising the World Darts Federation as the sport’s global governing body, before rebranding into the familiar Professional Darts Corporation.

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