Guest Blogger Rachel Barton shares her thoughts on why golf should be included in the Paralympics.
Statistics recently gathered from the Active People Survey conducted by Sport England revealed, ‘over 82,000 people with a disability are participating in golf within England at least once a week.’
Golf has weathered its fair share of unfounded stereotypes. Often dubbed the ‘old man’s sport’, many believe that professional golf is simply a large-scale version of the crazy golf kids play at their local parks, and that golf offers little in the way of physical exercise. This is simply untrue. As noted in Golf Digest, for an able bodied person, walking instead of making use of the golf carts, fitness experts estimate ‘you'll burn roughly 1,500 calories during a four-hour round.’
In an interview with the BBC, Simone Illger comments:
"Exercise as a disabled person burns more calories because of the [extra] effort you have to put into it,” she says. “You may only be able to manage two minutes on the treadmill but you’re likely to have burnt as many calories as the [non-disabled] person that was on there for half an hour."
So let’s consider the figure of 82,000 golfers with a disability.
Statistics from The English Federation for Disability Sport (EFDS) estimate that, ‘there are around 11 million disabled people in the UK, while only two in ten disabled people in England currently active.’ We can conclude that 2,200,000 disabled people are actively participating in sport. With 82,000 golfers with a disability, this would account for approximately 4% (3.72%) of this figure, which is drastically lower than it should be. However, statistics from RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) estimate that ‘28,000 people take part in riding, carriage driving, vaulting and show jumping activities each year.’ Equestrian sport; (a sport that has been included as a Paralympic sport) with 28,000 participants would account for approximately 1% (1.27%), which is almost a quarter of the amount of people who play golf. Results from the Active People Survey revealed that, ‘swimming remains the most popular sport among disabled people, although participation has decreased in the last year. Archery and gymnastics have the lowest rates of participation among disabled people.’
John Lines, a PGA professional and CEO of GolfSupport, a leading UK golfing retailer has commented that:
‘There is no reason why golf should not be included in the Olympics. It is a shame that having had Golf enter the Olympics, for the first time in 100 years that those with disabilities are discriminated for unknown reasons of safety. If those riding a horse, in the Paralympic Games are allowed to enter, then why shouldn’t a golfer in a wheelchair. There is definitely a comparison of safety to be had between a horse and a wheelchair and we all know which one poses more danger.’
This year’s Olympic Games marks a historic year in the golfing calendar. As noted on rio2016.com, ‘Golf was first played at the Olympic Games in Paris in 1900, only to be removed after 1904 – it returns this year, in 2016, after more than a century's absence.’
But what about Paralympic Golf?
Paralympic.org revealed, ‘In 2010, para-badminton, intellectually impaired basketball, para-golf, power chair football and para-taekwondo all applied to be part of the Rio 2016 Paralympic sports programme but were unsuccessful with the Governing Board instead choosing applications from para-canoe and para-triathlon.’
As of yet, there is little in the way of evidence to suggest that para-golf would even be included at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games; with current successful applications from sports meeting the specified requirements, including: ‘athletics, archery, badminton, boccia, canoe, cycling, equestrian, football 5-a-side, goalball, judo, powerlifting, rowing, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.’
Equality in Sport
In a recent survey conducted by sport.wales, ‘students with a physical disability were 10% less likely to get hooked by a sport and regularly participate due to accessibility, opportunities and funding.’
Children with disabilities are usually strong, determined and talented individuals; most do not wish to be treated any differently from other children. However, due to some practical circumstances, they may need additional aids in sports. The Paralympics allows for talented individuals to showcase their talent and in so doing, inspire others.
However, the decision to include Golf as an Olympic sport, but not as a Paralympic sport rather gives the impression that those with a disability are second-class citizens. Some may argue that guidelines for the ‘regular’ Olympics are different to those of the Paralympics, which may be true – but surely we, (a collective, international ‘we’), should help to iron out these teething problems in establishing the sport as an official Paralympic sport?
With further clarity, increased funding and coverage, the obstacles golf faces could be overcome.
The process would require thorough research to ensure that safety regulations are met, and there would be copious considerations that would need addressing before the sport could be established, but the old and somewhat overused adage, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ still rings true – and especially in this situation. Guidelines provided state that, ‘Each Paralympic sport has a different classification system, because each sport requires different abilities. Impairments therefore do not affect activity in different sports to the same extent.’
A Modification of the Rules of Golf for Golfers with Disabilities was produced in accordance with the R&A and the USGA, to ‘provide a means by which disabled golfers may play equitably with able-bodied golfers or golfers with other types of disabilities.’
Within this document, five different categories of disability were identified (for practical reasons) for ‘the purpose of modification to the Rules.’
Even with such criteria and guidelines available, it still remains a sensitive and contentious issue in golf as to the extent of one’s disability.
Barring the officials in the know; spectators and competitors alike have been kept in the dark as to why Paralympic Golf has been excluded from the Rio’s 2016 Olympic Games.
We may speculate that valid reasons were given as to why this choice was made; possibly on certain criteria not having been met or, on certain health and safety grounds? However, are we really going along with the fact nothing could have been done to alter these concerns? Or is it simply the case that Paralympic Golf has been swept aside to make way for sexier, high-adrenaline sports that offer potentially a greater entertainment factor? I’m sure the answer lies in the former reasoning. And if this is the case, I’m sure there will be the relevant documentation outlining why this decision was made.
My argument is plain and simple: The reasoning behind why Paralympic Golf was axed whilst abled-bodied Golf was accepted should have been made more readily available to the golfing community. We are owed at least that.
Written by Rachel Barton for Golfsupport