Gary Player, whose involvement in the Nelson Mandela Invitational annual charity event has been called into question over a course he designed in strife-torn Burma, has hit back fiercely at those who wish the event to distance itself from the man who has been the driving force behind it.
In a statement placed on the official Nelson Mandela Invitational website on Friday, nine-time major winner Player had this to say:
"I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that my company’s involvement in the design of a golf course in Burma has been taken entirely out of context.
"We did business there when the world’s relations towards the regime there had thawed. We believed that the talks in which the regime was engaged with the democratic opposition would lead to free and fair elections and that, like South Africa, Burma would embrace the chance to free their people and live harmoniously as an example within Asia.
"With that in mind, we completed the design of a golf course in 2002 – an effort for which we were paid expenses only. At the time we were appointed, Dawn Aung San Suu Kyi had been released and it seemed as though real political change was in the air.
"Sadly, since that time it has proven to be a false dawn.
"I therefore, once again, want to make it abundantly clear that I decry in the strongest possible terms the recent events in Burma and wholeheartedly support Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in his efforts to bring peace and transition to that country, including his call for sanctions.
"The Nelson Mandela Invitational charity golf tournament has been, and still is, my way of thanking and paying homage to our truly remarkable former President, whom we all love and respect."