If you’d been trapped in a time warp for a while now and haven’t noticed Asia’s growing influence in sport – virtually all sport ; well, its happening.
Rohit Brijnath, himself a symptom of this growing ascendancy, and writing now for, among others, the Hindu, the BBC and here in Singapore for the Straits Times, penned the following piece on the subject for the ST last week. Its typically balanced and invites thoughtful debate.
“There has been no call from Augusta but then I wasn’t expecting one. There are enough Brits in the field. Now if I were the only person in the country, a la China, I might get in. It’s a strange way to make up a field for a Major championship – TV rights.
– Colin Montgomerie
AFTER a lifetime of enjoying being Colin Montgomerie the Scot, after enjoying the enormous privileges of growing up in a Western golfing nation (courses, access, home advantage, a certain affluence, a culture that promotes sport as a career alternative, sponsor invites), now he wishes he was called Colin Wang!
Now, he’s saying the Chinese, Indians, Thais, who by the way don’t have a single Major in their backyard, whose Tour has the least influence, are advantaged?
Now, finally, when the East has some clout (financial), and tournaments want Asians in their fields because it boosts television ratings, and perhaps sponsorships, it is favouritism?
This is the funniest thing in sport since English golfer Ian Poulter, world No 24 and Major-less, insisted he was Tiger Woods’ only rival.
Merit, it is said, should determine the Masters field, and thus China’s Liang Wenchong (ranked No 111), Thailand’s Prayad Markasaeng (No 93) and India’s Jeev Milkha Singh (No 80) do not deserve to be invited to Augusta when Mr Montgomerie (No 75) isn’t.
It seems a sound argument, for sport should not be about favours or preferences, but performance.
But, of course, sport does have its quota of favours and preferences. Golf tournaments have sponsor invites, and John Daly, world No 186, makes a beery living from them. No one complains. Tennis events (and only eight of 65-odd events are held in Asia/Dubai) have wildcards. At the US Open, seven of eight wildcards go to Americans, and the eighth to an Australian on a reciprocal deal. No one complains.
So then why complain about these three Asians at the Masters?
Having navigated the globe repeatedly, Monty should know that geography is fundamental to sport. If football wasn’t keen on globally spreading the game (and earning revenues), it wouldn’t decide entries to the World Cup through continental quotas, but simply invite the best 32 teams. But then it wouldn’t be a world cup.
Part of Monty’s problem is the pain of his growing irrelevance. If he was still a great player, the Masters would embrace him (all fiddling involves lesser players), but those days are fading.
The entertaining Scot is allowed his little pout, but he might as well get used to making way for Asians. Sport is changing, sometimes radically, sometimes slowly. Once, not only was most of the decision-making in most sports confined to the West, the decisions mostly suited the West. Now that is altering.
Sports is desperate to capture Asia’s attention and its dollars (tennis’ Australian Open sells itself as the “Grand Slam of the Asia/Pacific”) because here is where the new audience and new money lies. And the evidence of this courtship is everywhere.
Formula One has five races now in Asia. Soon India will join in, Abu Dhabi will roar, and South Korea smoke. Yet, 10 seasons ago, only once in the year did cars race in Asia. Premier League clubs, with shirt sales on their minds, routinely go on seduction missions across this continent, and the idea of the international round had our piece of the planet in mind.
Dubai is now not just Roger Federer’s practice town but a place for dirham-counting golfers to build shining courses. Including Monty. Of course, when you are doing good business on this side of the world, then presumably there are no complaints.
In cricket, change has been most telling, for now money, ideas and influence flow East to West, and it is a discomforting reversal of roles for some. Expectedly almost, some doubt shadows the sub-continent’s ability to lead the game, and it has led to some artless double standards.
The recent possibility, for instance, that the chairman and the chief executive of the International Cricket Council could both be Indians was viewed in some quarters as an uncomfortable idea. But when these two posts were held by Australians some years ago, it was considered just fine.
The sporting East is tired of such disrespect, tired of being patronised, tired of the discordant notes that men like Montgomerie hit, even if inadvertently.
The East wants to be a major player in sports, and it eventually will be, but it needs to remember as well that respect on this journey must be earned, not just bought.
It must manage its new economic power responsibly, it must not bully as it does frequently in cricket, it must be wary of wearing a chip on its emerging shoulder, and it must not be content just hosting glittering tournaments but become competitive in them.
In a perfect world, Asian players would not need a favour from the Masters. And, well, neither would Monty.
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