July 13, 2018: The three official mascots for the forthcoming Asian games in Indonesia, Kaka the Rhino depicting strength, Atung the Deer depicting speed and BhinBhin the Bird depicting strategy, are certainly ideally suited for the sporting extravaganza starting in mid-August 2018.
This year, the Asian Games with 45 participating countries across 40 sporting disciplines includes golf, to be played from 23 rd to 26 th August. The chosen mascots with the qualities they stand for could not be more apt for Golf. Strength, Speed and Strategy will be the ultimate game changers for Golf in India.
In the Asian Games, India can boast of multiple Gold Medals in Golf. Globally, the sport has evolved to a new high with the game becoming easier. Simplification of the rules from the R&A for furtherance of fair play and time saving are very much on the anvil from 2019 onwards.
Different formats to include the fairer sex have now become an accepted norm. The word “Elite” is placed before “Amateur“ to depict quality of the championship for players. This has, however, been misunderstood by many to mean “Elitist”, or an exclusive preserve beyond the reach of economically weaker sections. This misconception is widespread in our country.
Golf can be elite sport, but is certainly not elitist! In other words, the idea of Golf as a professional career option took several years to find acceptance. Initially, it was only males from Economically Weaker Sections who were more inclined to take up the sport as a career, but since the early eighties Gentlemen and many young women are taking up the game as a full time profession.
For several decades, Golf was given step-motherly treatment by those in authority. Minimum attention resulted in minimal funding. Considered elitist, the finer nuances of the game eluded most. Difficulty in comprehension and interpretation of the Rules of Golf did not help matters, while lack of equipment and high customs duties added to the woes of aspiring golfers.
Gentlemen first took up the sport as a profession in the late seventies. A further impetus to the growth of the game followed when the caddy ranks, belonging to the economically weaker sections, decided to turn professional.
In the 1982 Asian Games at the iconic Delhi Golf Club, the Indian team walked away with the Individual and Team gold medals. Suddenly, people sat up and began to take notice. As realization dawned that the sport was not the exclusive domain of the wealthy, the game made great strides in the eighties and nineties.
Since Prize Money at the time was still meagre, men were generally not inclined to turn professional and opt for the game as a career. This lack of numbers led to the common misconception that only the rich played the game!
During my journey of twenty years in golf administration, I have frequently been asked why the pool of women golfers has not kept pace with that of the men. The reply is obvious. India still does not have the concept of female caddies.
In the last two decades, several attempts have been made to ensure that women are allowed to become caddies at golf clubs across India. I have written to the President of the National Sports Federation for Golf, requesting him to ensure that clubs employ as caddies at least five to ten women above the age of 18 from the economically weaker sections of society, so that in due course they get an opportunity to join golf’s professional ranks.
For this to happen, we first need to change our mind set, and employ such women as Assistant Caddies / Golf Apprentices.
After a gap of 112 years, Golf returned to the Olympics in 2016. The youngest player in the field was from India, an unimaginable feat in just a short journey of 8 years! This needs to happen more often! In the next decade, we need to ensure a broad based development of the game which will aid in the Olympic talent hunt.
From 2019 onwards, the Khelo India project must include golf as a discipline. The plan for women playing Cricket, Hockey and other physically fit athletes to be exposed to Golf has been on the anvil for several years.
With the sport becoming easier due to relaxation in the rules, allowing for enhanced use of technology, the game can only get more popular. The use of Distance Measuring Devices or DMDs has improved scores tremendously.
Players of yesteryears understood that Physics and Math were integral to the development of game strategy. Now, armed with personal DMDs, players have virtually done away with mental calculations.
The Olympic Games of 2020 to be held in Japan are just two years away. We need to take a cue from Japanese football players who took great pride in cleaning the stadiums post their matches. During the course of training all athletes for the 2020 Olympics, the Indian Olympic Association must ensure that India’s contingent to Tokyo is well versed in etiquette.
For corporates, development of Golf must be recognised as a legitimate activity under Corporate Social Responsibility, as the sport can create lifelong career options for the youth of India.
As we march on in our endeavour to make India a sporting giant, let us all pool our efforts to ensure a podium finish for our golfers in the 2020 Olympics!
Champika Nanda Sayal is the Secretary General of WGAI