Sunday 21 January 2018

Hold The Back Page: Golf's moral blindness truly disturbing

Eamonn Sweeney

I see the social media lynch mob were out in force again last week, digital torches and pitchforks in their hands, scary gap-toothed yokel grins on their faces. Their target? Some young cycling fan who took a selfie with Marcel Kittel after the German slumped exhausted to the ground at the Giro d'Italia finish in Dublin last Sunday.

The usual pack of loopers showed their maturity and decency by showering Fermoy teenager David McCarthy with abuse because, take your pick folks, (a) They were outraged or (b) They are deeply unhappy in themselves and have nothing better to do than whip themselves into a rage about something trivial.

Meanwhile something genuinely appalling which happened the same day passed off without much adverse comment at all. At the Madeira Islands Open, 52-year-old Zimbabwean caddy Ian McGregor was carrying the bag of Scottish golfer Alastair Forsyth when he collapsed and died of a heart attack.

European Tour officials held the tournament up for a while before deciding to continue. Forsyth finished out his round. He had one hole left to play and was about to finish joint 63rd and pick up €1,080 for his efforts but he still found it impossible to step off the course and show just a smidgin of respect for the man who'd been working for him when he died. "I feel that was what Mac would have wanted . . . He had no problems carrying bags around a golf course so I didn't see a lot wrong with him," he said.

In a move which will delight fans of hypocrisy and bullshit everywhere, the Tour website informs us that McGregor's death, "puts the game of golf and sport in general into sharp perspective". The apology issued by the Tour last night for the the "hurt and upset" caused by the decision is a classic example of too little, too late. Because the only way the death would have put the game of golf into perspective, sharp or otherwise, would have been if the organisers had the decency to call it off. In the words of Spanish golfer Pablo Larrazabal, "Life is more important than golf."

The event had already been cut back to 36 holes because of fog which apparently proves that in golf, poor visibility is taken more seriously than the death of a caddy. There were dissenting voices. Finnish golfer Mikko Ilonen tweeted, "Call it off NOW! Have some respect please," while three players in the field of 75 Peter Lawrie, Thomas Pieters and Alexandre Kaleka withdrew.

Yet the overall impression is that the golf pundits who are ever willing to declare their game's moral superiority over lesser codes are intensely relaxed about what happened at Santo da Serra. Which is quite something coming from people who, on the other hand, regarded the fact that Tiger Woods had sex with a lot of women and looked grumpy on the course as threatening the fabric of the great game. The great game where players call their own penalties, women are barred from membership of some of the most famous clubs and play continues when an employee dies on the course.

Forsyth's action in playing on might have been amusing had it occurred in a PG Wodehouse short story but it indicates a moral blindness which to my mind is far more disturbing than anything which occurs on a soccer pitch. After all when Fabrice Muamba suffered a heart attack in March 2012 when playing for Bolton against Tottenham, the referee didn't restart play by dropping the ball, he called the whole thing off. And Muamba wasn't even dead.

Playing sport doesn't absolve you from observing the ordinary decencies of civilised life. Not even if you're wearing an expensive and tasteless V-neck gansey.

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