IGF’s Scanlon: Phenomenal broadcast coverage in Rio helped broaden the appeal of golf

Golf returned to the Olympic Games in Rio after a hiatus of 112 years. Several of the sport’s top players decided not to take part, generating some negative media coverage, but the International Golf Federation’s executive director Antony Scanlon tells Frank Dunne why Rio was an ‘outstanding success’ for the sport

Antony Scanlon, IGF. (Photo; IGF).

The International Golf Federation considered that the development of golf worldwide would be greatly assisted by its inclusion as an Olympic sport. The national federation members of the IGF thought that governmental support for the sport would increase significantly as a result, which would enable the introduction of the game to a greater number of people by making it more accessible and affordable. In addition, in countries where there may be little golf shown on television, the inclusion of the sport in the Olympic Games would promote the sport to a new level and this increased exposure should result in increased participation levels.

The key arguments presented to the IOC Session in Copenhagen, which voted for golf’s return to the Olympic sports programme in 2009, were: the universality of the game and the fact that it was played by more than 60 million people in over 150 countries around the world; inclusiveness – golf is a sport that can be played for a lifetime by people of all ages, races and by men and women at the highest levels around the world; professional player participation – commitment of the best athletes in the sport to participate in the Olympic Games and the commitment also given by the professional Tours to not have major championships conflict with the Olympic Games; the core values of golf and its alignment with those of the Olympic movement, such as the long history of participants calling penalties on themselves – even at the cost of losing competitions.

We achieved phenomenal broadcast numbers across the world during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and it was watched by a younger, more gender-neutral audience than that achieved for professional golf events. In the UK, the BBC recorded 10.2 million viewers for the final round of the men’s competition, smashing the previous highest TV audience of 3.2 million.

Golf was also the seventh most popular sport at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in terms of fan engagements around the world. When Indian athlete, Aditi Ashok, shot 68 for the second round of the women’s event, more than 400,000 compatriots searched for her name on Google, more times than ‘Rio Olympics’ was searched. ‘Golf’ searches spiked by 110 per cent during these Games.

Since re-joining the Olympic programme, the IGF national federation membership has increased by 39 per cent to 151 members across 146 countries. We have seen increased funding and resourcing flowing from national governments to our membership that are assisting in the growth and development of grassroots participation and elite performance. Funding from the Argentinian government is enabling their elite amateur players to participate in key international events such as the US Amateur and the South American Amateur championships.

With every championship there are various reasons why athletes are unable to participate, but you never adjust the organisation of the event on the field you have. Rather, you always plan to provide the best possible experience both on and off the field of play for the athletes that do participate. In Rio, we had exceptional athletes participate in both the men’s and women’s events and we witnessed an extraordinary showcase of the skill and professionalism of our athletes, producing wonderful and worthy Olympic champions, Inbee Park and Justin Rose. By every measure, golf’s return to the Olympic programme after 112 years was an outstanding success.

We hope that the Tokyo Olympic Games will grow further awareness, understanding and interest amongst women and youth. But our hopes for Tokyo are much broader than successful golf competitions. We hope these are safe and secure Games that will bring promise and unity to the world. We hope our athletes will transcend our sport and inspire and touch all those who watch these Olympic Games and offer light and a momentary release from the hardships and loss many have experienced around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The world needs these Olympic Games and their significance is not lost on us.

For Paris 2024, we expect to continue building upon the foundations of success that the Rio and Tokyo Olympic competitions have created and to provide a unique and valuable experience for our athletes that they will treasure for all their lives and to showcase our sport to a wider, broader audience that will inspire many of them to become fans and ultimately participants in our sport.

All sports face challenges with their international calendars with the proliferation of more than 8,400 sanctioned international events by international federations each year. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly challenging for all sports to schedule the Olympic Games and the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games certainly added an extra dimension to this challenge.

Golf, when applying for readmission to the Olympic programme, addressed the calendar issue by gaining a commitment from all the organisers of the golf’s major events to not conflict with the Olympic Games. There are many variables that contribute to an athlete’s decision to compete at the Olympic Games and the sports calendar cannot be seen as the sole reason. What we will continue to do is organise unique and significant events that occur only once every four years and provide an experience like no other in golf. As with other sports when they first appeared on the Olympic programme, athletes will soon determine the significance of participating at the Olympic Games and the importance of its place in their own personal legacies.

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