Apparently we are all supposed to believe that the avaricious Mr Greg Norman’s new found interest in promoting a new golf tour is first and foremost about Growing the Game.
No, this new Saudi financed upstart is very simply about money, money and yes, you’ve guessed it, more money!
Absolutely nothing wrong with a newcomer intending to disrupt the market and every professional sports person is perfectly within their rights to decide where they travel to and what tournaments they play in but equally, as soon as anyone associates himself or herself with any controversial organisation or oppressive regime, they cannot be surprised when the world’s media challenges them on matters of values, morals and integrity.
The standard get out clause of “I’m just a sportsperson and not interested in politics“ will not absolve you of responsibility in the eyes of many amateurs; certainly not when the obscene rewards offered to a select few are being thrown around like confetti.
Sportswashing. The latest buzzword created to portray the involvement in high profile sport and major sports events by governments and organisations to distract attention from controversial policies and government actions and seen as a desperate ploy to enhance or even salvage its reputation.
Of course the strong links between Politics and Sports is nothing new. The old Soviet Union, East Germany and many others attempted to persuade their citizens of their political superiority through the obsessive pursuit of success at countless European, World and Olympic competitions; invariably at significant physical and mental damage to their athletes and other sportsmen and sportswomen. The last twenty years has seen a greater emphasis on attracting major events hence Olympic Games, Formula 1 races and FIFA World Cups being held across the globe in Russia, China, Quatar, Saudi and Abu Dhabi. Of course the decision on host venues for such major sporting events is very much driven by massive commercial interests and the priceless sponsorship opportunities.
Following the expansion of professional golf tours around the world over the last couple of decades it was inevitable the oil sheikhs and their Asian connections with their well established passion for tourism combined with their vast wealth would come calling at golf’s door.
Here we are in early 2022 and the proposed Saudi Golf League rumour mill is rapidly going up through the gears. Massive signing on fees being floated then immediately denied. Potential players indicating interest then denying involvement. Potential venues suggested then just days later any interest suppressed. All the time we have the league’s anointed ambassador Norman proclaiming the incredible benefits this venture will bring to everyone and everywhere it touches.
Exactly how this will effectively grow the game is very much harder to understand.
Why does anyone want to play any sport? Why does anyone want to play golf?
Certainly watching the very best competing against each other at all the iconic sports venues can have a dramatic impact. For golf in the U.K. that should mean ensuring all the Major championships including all the Womens’s major championships are shown by our public service broadcasters. We need to see so much more.
Creating opportunities to learn and play the game at all ages will be critical to a healthy future for golf. Breaking down barriers and attracting new members into our club system remains a challenge.
In Scottish golf we have seen some incredibly impressive initiatives in a genuine effort to grow the game. The R&A under the enlightened leadership of Martin Slumbers has been rightly applauded for its decision to purchase the public course at Lethamhill in Glasgow with the intention of creating a family-focused facility. Similarly some of our best pros continue to give back to this great game of golf to actively encourage our young people to give golf a chance and to support those hoping to follow in their footsteps.
Stephen Gallagher continues to do great work with junior golfers through his foundation; Alan Tait runs around the country introducing golf into schools and clubs with Golphin when he’s not delivering his Get back to Golf series of tournaments for Pros and top amateurs in Scotland and our very own 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie is heavily invested in developing our next top golfers through the Tartan Pro Tour.
Through their words and actions they all continue to demonstrate a genuine love of golf and a determination to see a strong future for the game at all levels.
As for the underlying motivation for Mr Norman and friends, the jury is still well out.