| 18.2°C Dublin

Dion Fanning: Racism still par for course in sport steeped in discrimination


Golf's charming ability to self-regulate revealed itself again last week when Sergio Garcia declared that on an accusation of racism, he had no case to answer. Golf's authorities subsequently moved swiftly to accept the findings of his investigation into himself.

Before he made his remarks at a European Tour awards banquet, Sergio held the high moral ground in his argument with Tiger Woods.

Most people tend to feel morally superior to Tiger so, even for a man as desperate for significant honours as Sergio, this was no great accomplishment.

In the years since his fall, Tiger has been criticised essentially for his manners. When the details of his private life were revealed, some insisted he would now have to become a better person, even in his dealing with the press. Somehow the press, too, had been let down by his infidelities, even if these infidelities, it must be said, often put him in the right frame of mind to win. One for the sports psychologists to consider.

Since the Masters, the focus has been on Tiger's careless drops and the controversy over his victory in the Players Championship placed Sergio in a position of strength morally as their feud continued. Naturally, as he always does when in a position of strength, Sergio choked.

His remarks at the Tour's annual gala dinner were the comments of a fool but the eagerness of golf's authorities to declare the matter closed was even more revealing, although not surprising considering how ineptly they dealt with it when it was open.

Sergio had a moment of madness as he attempted to crack wise as part of the celebrations for the Ryder Cup victory. Safely within the bosom of his European team, he talked about serving Tiger "fried chicken", a pejorative expression as many in the room immediately understood.

Golf's authorities didn't appear to understand it which was no shock.

Golf's attempt to place itself at the highest point in sport's ethical pyramid is always accompanied by a self-satisfaction that it is not besmirched by the ugliness of a game like football.

They talk smugly of how the players will call fouls on themselves, contrasting it with the horrid sight of tattooed footballers diving and cheating.

Football, in a deeply imperfect way, has attempted to deal with racism and homophobia when confronted with them.

Having tackled the grave societal ill that is the belly putter last week, golf tried to move swiftly on from Sergio's racist comment by accepting apologies it really was in no position to accept.

How could the game be any different when the game is structured around the clubs, temples of suburban morality, and, at the other extreme, the most wretched type of corporate grotesque?

Its cultural reference points are of the most debased kind so when George O'Grady comes out, hitting offensive home runs, talking about how some of Sergio's best friends are "coloured", he can only be pitied.

A friend of mine, a golfer, says that "everything about golf – except the golf itself – is bullshit."

O'Grady was attempting to state that some of Sergio's best friends are black, a discredited defence anyway before he used the word 'coloured', which has dark association with subjugation and segregation.

That, too, was no surprise given that golf is steeped in discrimination. It is a sport so institutionally wrong that its instincts are bound to fail. It can't stand up for falling down.

Golf was eager to move on and at the PGA in Wentworth on Thursday, reports stated that Sergio had "received a warm welcome at the Surrey golf club" something which would be more encouraging if they stated that he had received a warm welcome on, say, the streets of Detroit.

In golf's exclusive homeland, they probably saw the fuss as another example of political correctness gone mad, a sign of the decay of society which can be arrested only through the strict observation of a dress code.

Their world of twitching curtains is a relentlessly dreary one which is only to be expected when you spend a lifetime in a clubhouse making sure that the newer members have their shirts tucked in.

The authorities could have suspended Sergio for one tournament at least but the subject of racism is alien to them.

Their sense of dislocation was clear. Sergio announced at a press conference that there would be no further punishment. If they were intent on doing nothing, golf's authorities could have announced that they would be doing nothing themselves rather than leave it to the accused. It's no wonder it's the game of choice of white-collar criminals.

Perhaps golf has no desire to be popular in the broader sense but it's not just race which continues to cause them problems.

This year's British Open takes place at Muirfield, a club which refuses to allow women to become members but happily allows 'lady golfers' to play a round.

"Although we are a private club, we are actually very open and welcoming to ladies," Alastair Brown, the club's secretary said last year. "They can come and play our course any day of the week, and they can go wherever they want in our clubhouse. There are no barriers anywhere. We have had ladies playing at Muirfield since 1891, and they certainly don't have to be a member to play here. I think you'll find that our attitude to lady golfers is far more welcoming and hospitable than is the case in many places."

Lady golfers sound a little less empowered than the women who might not consider it delightful that they can go "wherever they want in our clubhouse".

They should be pleased that these freedoms are granted to them so graciously. Women may not be allowed to be members of Muirfield but they need not despair. They can take comfort from the knowledge there are many men on the tour of whom it can be said that some of their best friends are ladies.


Irish Independent