If the cap don't fit
Driving for glory, neutralised Russians and Jersey creamed
Patrick Cantlay, not (yet) a Major winner, not (yet) world #1, unknown to the vast majority of golfing non-aficionados before last weekend, but now famous for having a head too big for his Team USA baseball cap. Such is the power of the Ryder Cup. You can’t put a price on that, Patrick.
Professional sport isn’t just about the taking part. Nor indeed are the Olympics, whatever Baron de Coubertin originally intended. We pay good money to watch and expect high standards: athletes who have trained to excel at their craft when it matters most to us, because that’s when it matters most to them. That they might be competing ostensibly for nothing but the glory of representing us only sharpens the edge of our excitement.
Who are we, or they, kidding?
The Olympics have long been a gateway to a more comfortable life, going way back to their origins in Ancient Greece. The victors received only a laurel wreath, but were rewarded lavishly when they returned home from Olympia. The greatest were set up for life.
The International Olympic Committee today profits hugely from its ownership of the ‘rings’, but athletes have long realised that Olympian ideals don’t pay the bills and have become increasingly adept at monetising their participation. Not a Games goes by without competitor scratchiness about restrictions on their promotion of personal sponsors or the insistence they wear team kit provided by rival suppliers to the brands that actually support them year-round with hard cash.
Many governments have got in on the act, providing funding to live an athlete’s life and bonuses for medal winners in return for making their nation proud. Of course, most Olympians don’t win a medal. They barely achieve fame outside their immediate circle of friends and family. For them, their appearance fee consists only of team kit - ‘stash’ in the athlete jargon - and memories for their private bank. But the financial gateway exists, however narrow, and that is enough.
It is hard to put your finger on what the IOC exists for, aside from farming out the rights to host its Games to cities who foot the bill, and sweeping up revenue for itself from eager sponsors. It funds a series of programmes promoting sport, especially in third world nations, but still sits on huge reserves of cash. But at least the IOC has this development fig leaf.
The Ryder Cup is altogether different. It is entirely owned by the players’ associations in the US and Europe. When 24 golfers compete every other year for the trophy, they are doing so for the good of their wider collectives of fellow pros, not for the common man, woman or child. If Patrick Cantlay really does object to going unpaid for his weekend’s work, it might just be because he feels he is feathering the nests of those rivals in the rankings who failed to make the cut for the Cup.
“The 12 players supposedly need to eat it and their intellectual property gets abused for the benefit of 200 other people. That’s not right.” Xander Schauffele’s father Stephan in The Times
To assuage superstar grumblings about the Ryder Cup hardship posting, the PGA donates $200,000 per American team member to charity, half to each golfer’s own recipient of choice. Not dissimilar to, say, England men’s footballers giving their match fees to charity, as they do.
A finalised deal between the LIV rebel golfers and those that have remained in the PGA (and hence Ryder Cup) stable is still far from rubber-stamped. If one is concluded, then Saudi Arabia may end up with some dibs on the Cup. Perhaps the Kingdom would then like to add a nought or two to the charitable donations underpinning Team USA. When Patrick Cantlay steps up to the tee at Bethpage Black in 2025, the announcer could state his chosen charity to further pump up the home crowd.
Professional golfers are a world apart from most of their Olympian counterparts. Archery, hammer throwing and synchronised swimming are not awash with cash. But the stars of the Ryder Cup can shoot for the opportunity to rub shoulders with these less well-off brethren in Paris next year. Those that do so will either have decided that a gold medal is of sufficient emotional allure to warrant their time and attention, or that appearing pro bono will burnish their personal brand image (and value).
As it happens, I can’t see what golf brings to the Olympics. Let the Ryder Cup remain the sport’s unambiguous pinnacle, car park argy bargy, provocative hat waving and all.
Shape up or ship out
I was excited in the summer to receive an email titled ‘Shape the future of LIV Golf with your input.’ At last, someone truly influential appeared to be reading Sport inc. Turns out they just wanted me to join the LIV X Loyalty Program. No thanks, I’m uncomfortable in an empty room.
The previous leadership of the International Paralympic Committee went out on a limb in 2016 and barred Russians from competing at the Rio Paralympics in punishment for the nation’s systemic doping. The IOC took a softer line, permitting many to take part as ‘neutrals’. Relations between the two organisations were severely tested as a result.
The IPC’s current leadership attempted to take the same hard-line approach for Paris 2024 in response to the war in Ukraine. But its membership has now voted to tread the path of lesser resistance and effectively mirror the IOC. Disappointing to me. Democracy can certainly prove uncomfortable at times.
“We believe this decision does not align with the values of the Paralympic movement.” David Clarke, CEO of ParalympicsGB
The collapse of Jersey Reds, winners of last season’s rugby Championship, has garnered less publicity than the three Premiership teams that have preceded it into administration over the past year. In a way, though, Jersey’s demise most clearly highlights club rugby’s financial challenge.
Denied promotion by virtue of not having a 10,000 capacity ground, the Reds were pulling in crowds averaging only 1,500 in a stadium under half the size deemed necessary for top flight status. When a financial subsidy from the Jersey government was not renewed, the end appears to have been inevitable - and was swift. NB: Jersey’s population at last estimate was 103,100.
If I can believe Wikipedia, the average gate in the Championship last year was just 1,113. In the Premiership it was 13,274, with both Newcastle Falcons and Sale Shark averaging less than half that number. The maths is unsustainable in both tiers. Stop and think about the £5 million salary cap in the Premiership for a moment. Best recognise the natural limitations of a professional game and reshape accordingly to ensure its vitality.
The Wrong Trousers
Gromit would have sorted it. Ding Junhui was docked a frame at snooker’s English Open this week for turning up in brown rather than regulation black trousers. Could he have done a Cantlay and simply played without the offending item of clothing?