This year’s Solheim Cup – the women’s equivalent of golf’s Ryder Cup – was notable for more than just a remarkable comeback victory by the United States team. During the fourballs section Europe’s Suzann Pettersen refused to concede a hole and subsequently the point was awarded to Europe rather than the USA. The lost point did not affect the final result but for many spectators and pundits it left a sour taste in the mouth. With golf’s reputation as a game where players go as far as to call fouls on themselves to maintain the game’s integrity, the kind of gamesmanship displayed by Pettersen seems at odds with the spirit of golf and the sort of attitude that fans associate with their golfing heroes.
Pettersen’s actions have also brought questions about the effect of the increasing professionalism in the women’s game on the standards of fair play and sportsmanship. As seems to be the way of things in modern sport, the introduction of corporate sponsors and the correspondingly enormous rewards on offer invariably seem to erode much of the camaraderie and goodwill present in amateur sports in favour of borderline cheating and players ‘bending’ the rules.
Clearly there is a need for sponsorship and advertising revenue if sports are going to develop, especially women’s sport which has been so woefully underfunded for so long, but when the allure of financial rewards and the pressure to achieve the success that brings them causes players to abandon the core principles and traditions of their sports then there are serious questions to be asked.
Sports stars should be positive role models for the young people who idolise them and should epitomise all the great things that sport can do. It seems difficult to reconcile these principles with the deliberate cheating, gamesmanship and cynicism that many now associate with high level professional sports.
Perhaps the most damning comment on Pettersen’s actions came from her own captain, Europe’s Carin Koch who claimed that Europe chose not to concede another hole in return because their actions fell “within the laws of the game”. This reliance on a technicality seems more of a condemnation than a reasonable excuse, golf has historically not been a game of technicalities but one of honour, respect and regard for the intangible, unwritten spirit of the game.
Cricket may be the game that most associate with gentlemanly conduct but golf is perhaps one of the last true bastions of sporting integrity given the corruption scandals that have rocked cricket in recent years.
When the captain of the European women’s golf team is reduced to relying on a technicality it speaks volumes about the way the women’s golf world has changed since the introduction of a more professional approach across the board.
It seems unfair to blame Pettersen when you consider the kind of pressure she must have been under; not just the pressure from the thousands of fans eagerly watching her every move and urging her on but also the added pressure of knowing the commercial and financial consequences of failing to win.
Perhaps what we should focus on is how the creeping influence of corporate culture has changed the culture of sports, including but not limited to that of golf. The increase in potential financial gain has led to more doping, more cheating, more gamesmanship and more corruption. Every single one of the ugliest facets of modern sport can be traced back in some way to the influx of money into professional sport and there surely needs to be something done to address the effect this has had on the integrity of sport and on the players who have to compete under the enormous pressure generated by their global fanbase.
Image courtesy of Keith Allison.