POSTED: July 22nd 2015

JOHN GOODBODY: Golf needs to embrace Olympic ideals and needs

The Rio 2016 athletes village where IOC President Bach hopes the golf athletes will stay / Matthew Stockman Getty Images
The Rio 2016 athletes village where IOC President Bach hopes the golf athletes will stay / Matthew Stockman Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Golf was never the most natural sport to be part of the Summer Olympics. Not held at the Games since 1904, it is certainly highly popular in several parts of the developed world, especially in the United States and Britain, and its professional circuits on both sides of the Atlantic are well-established, lucrative and attractive to sponsors. Like tennis, there are four major annual tournaments and there is no question that the leading players would prefer to win one of those titles rather than an Olympic gold medal.

For many people, the fact that the Olympics are the pinnacle for that sport is a significant criterion for admission to the Games programme. And here golf plainly falls short.

Another criterion is that the outstanding players take part in the Olympics. Generally, this has happened in tennis. With golf we shall have to wait to see when the sport returns to the Games in Rio de Janeiro next year.

The players themselves have a responsibility to the sport to be present because it will give the competition a high profile and also begin to expand it in areas of the world, where it is little played and certainly does not produce leading figures. The future health of golf depends on expanding the playing and spectating base. It was noteworthy that in 1960, Arnold Palmer was persuaded to take part in the Open Championship in Britain after a period when Americans had seldom bothered to do so, partly because of the travel problems and also because of the small financial rewards. Mark McCormack, Palmer's business partner, explained the need for him to become an international figure. Palmer duly took part in 1960, finishing second, and then won the Open in 1961 and 1962, performances which helped promote the expansion of golf, the extent of which we saw at this year's Open, which finished this week at St. Andrews, the home of the sport.

Golf's credibility as an Olympic sport also means that it has to embrace the code of the World Anti-Doping Agency and here there is a reluctance by the U.S. Professional Golfers

Association to do so. The drug-testing programme of the USPGA falls short of compliance with the Wada code which demands random out-of-competition testing and the release of positive test results.

Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee President, said at a press conference at St. Andrews last week: "Athletes have to accept the Olympic standards during the next year prior to the Games and during the Games. The means, for instance, that during the Games, the first five will be tested on top of random testing and the target testing during the Olympic period. They all have to accept it. You must have a level playing field."

The US PGA began drug testing in 2008 but it does not announce full details of results or carry out blood testing, as occurs in other Olympic sports. The PGA Tour gives out the name of a player and the length of a ban but only for performance-enhancing substances, not for recreational drugs. John Daly, the 1995 Open champion, has described the PGA policy as a "big joke" However from May 6 next year, players come under the drugs protocol of the International Golf Federation, with full disclosure and also with players having to say where they will be for one hour every day in the following 3 weeks, standard practice in other sports.

Because golf is such a technical sport, the contribution that drugs would make to a player's success is limited. However, this does not mean that they could help a competitor to get an edge over a rival : beta-blockers or tranquillisers to calm nerves; cocaine to sharpen awareness?

Two PGA players have received suspensions since 2008 and in 2014, Dustin Johnson, a leading player in the Open last week, was absent for six months from the tour, arousing suspicions as the reason.

Golf and the golfers themselves need to show that they genuinely want to be part of the Olympic Movement. Not only the players themselves will benefit but also the sport itself.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · Olympics · Golf · Rio 2016

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