Golf pushing for inclusion as Olympic sport

GOLF hasn’t been played at the Olympics for over a century but now many of its leading players and governing bodies are pushing for its inclusion in 2016.

Much has changed in the sport since 77 golfers from just two countries – the USA and Canada – competed for men’s medals in individual and teams events at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis.

Golf is now played by 60 million people in nearly 120 countries  and pressure is mounting for it to be readmitted to the Ollympic fold.

Effectively, golf is now in a play-off against baseball, karate, roller sports, rugby sevens, softball and squash for inclusion.

Representatives of the International Golf Federation have formally presented their case for golf to become an Olympic sport during a meeting with the International Olympic Committee Program Commission in recent days at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Making the presentation were Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A and Joint Secretary of the IGF, and PGA TOUR executive Ty Votaw, Executive Director of the IGF Olympic Golf Committee.

Among the key points they highlighted were golf’s worldwide participation and diversity; the sport’s economic and charitable impact; and its commitment to the youth of the world. Golf, they noted, has grown significantly in these three areas and would continue to grow as an Olympic sport, thus influencing the relevance and attraction of the Olympic Games.

the current top-10 rankings for both men and women feature players from 12 different countries

Dawson said  golf was truly an international sport that continued to grow through

new initiatives being implemented all over the world to teach the game to both young and old.

“We believe the time is right for golf to be brought back to the Olympic Games,” he said.

During the presentation, the IOC Programme Commission was shown a series of short films that featured top players expressing support for golf’s bid. The films opened up with Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, the Number 1 ranked woman golfer in the world, and closed with World Number 1 ranked Tiger Woods. In between, the support of top players such as Annika Sorenstam from Sweden, Phil Mickelson from the United States, Suzanne Petterson from Norway and Vijay Singh from Fiji.

Also appearing in the films with statements of support were: Paula Creamer, United States;  Karrie Webb, Australia; K.J. Choi, South Korea; Ernie Els, South Africa; Sergio Garcia, Spain; Ryuji Imada, Japan; Anthony Kim, United States;  Camilo Villegas, Colombia; and Mike Weir, Canada.

“We felt it was critically important to show that many of the game’s biggest stars are saying supportive and positive things about golf’s bid for the Olympics,” Votaw said. “We obviously believe there is a very compelling case as to why golf should become an Olympic sport, and today was the first official step in what essentially is a year-long selection process. Peter and I took the opportunity to highlight the growth and popularity of golf, its global impact and how it would benefit the Olympic Games.”

A special element to the presentation was the presence of the actual trophy presented to Canadian George Lyon for winning the individual stroke play in 1904 in St. Louis, USA. 

Showing just how international professional golf has become, Votaw pointed out that the current top-10 rankings for both men and women feature players from 12 different countries.

Professional golf is televised every week in 216 countries, translated into 35 languages, with a reach of more than 500 million households. Also of note is that 120 players, or half of the LPGA’s membership, are from countries outside the United States. Plus, the European Tour’s “Race to Dubai” in 2009 will feature 53 tournaments in 27 countries.

While specifics of the proposed Olympic format will be based on the input of top players and outlined in the formal bid, Dawson and Votaw presented an overview of the IGF’s initial thinking, which includes 60-player fields for both men and women playing in a yet-to-be determined individual competitive format.

“We envisage the individual athlete competing for his or her country to ensure geographic balance among the players and to maximise the number of countries that can earn a medal,” Dawson explained.

Dawson and Votaw also noted the ease with which golf would fit into any of the four finalists to host the 2016 Games due to existing golf facilities in those cities – Chicago, USA; Madrid, Spain; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Tokyo, Japan. Both the host city and selection of any new sports will be determined at the 121st IOC session, scheduled for October 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark.


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