FEATURE - Sir Clive Woodward – Golf in the Olympics and the opportunities that presents

FEATURE - Sir Clive Woodward – Golf in the Olympics and the opportunities that presents

27/07/2022

"Every four years we've got to plough every effort into this golf tournament. Can we make golf even bigger? Because the ramifications in terms of participation alone are huge.”

As a former director of sport for the British Olympic Association and a mad-keen golfer, Sir Clive Woodward is uniquely well qualified to talk about the game’s return to the Olympics and the opportunity it presents.

Sir Clive Woodward OBE was the coach of the England rugby team from 1997 to 2004, masterminding their victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Sir Clive went on to become director of elite performance and director of sport for the British Olympic Association. He is also a five-handicap golfer at Lambourne, who speaks as passionately about golf as he does rugby.

Now golf is back in the Olympics, what does it need to do to take full advantage of the opportunity?

I was so pleased to see golf come back in the Rio Games. I love playing golf. It attracts great people and I love the game. I think golf's got to understand – and sometimes you just need somebody to tell you the obvious – that the Olympics is the most watched sporting event in the world. It’s forgotten by so many people.

One goal is to get a lot of publicity, but also a lot of funding for sport comes from if you participate to get your sport attached to the Olympics. It’s huge.

When you look at a sport like squash, they do so many things right to try and get the accreditation to be an Olympic sport, but they've not achieved it yet.

It’s so, so important for the game. So once you've got that status, as golf now has, you've got to really go for it.

My only slight disappointment with golf was I think they could have made more of it. I really think that people have got to say that every four years we've got to kind of redo the rules. People have got to really help here.

Some of the great games in golf that we play at the weekends are mixed. We play alternative shot. It’s finding a format that maybe is even more interesting.

Tokyo was fantastic and the players are all saying all the right things. So it’s gone well, it's great, but how do we make sure for Paris we get to do even better? How can we improve on this?

I'd love to see a different format, to make it different from the norm. Can we persuade the Olympics that, yes, it’s fine to have a strokeplay competiton but can we also have a mixed tournament, or a Ryder Cup style event? Can we play a mixed team event? Because the mixed events have gone down so well. There’s a bigger picture here – to see both sexes playing together and playing well together.

I just think they missed a trick in terms of the actual format. And they're probably up against scheduling because of events in the UK or America or Europe or Asia or wherever. But you've just got to go, guys, we’ve got to forget that. Every four years we've got to plough every effort into this golf tournament. Can we make golf even bigger? Because the ramifications in terms of participation alone are huge.

Is it right that golf’s best players are playing or would it be better to give amateurs the experience of a lifetime?

I think you’ve got to have the best players there. I think it is a showcase. Do you want the Usain Bolt of golf playing? You want McIlroy there. You want your superstars all playing. But at the same time seeing them in a different environment, outside what they're normally playing in the majors, would have been even better.

I just think the opportunity for the men and women’s games to mix for this one moment in time would be fantastic.

And if you had a Ryder Cup situation, that could carry on for almost the whole two weeks. Where you go knockout, knockout, knockout so it becomes more like the football or hockey tournaments that literally go on for the full two weeks.

But is golf prepared to sacrifice something for that? And my answer to these professional players is: come on, this is your moment to give something back. You're all incredibly lucky. Just for two weeks every four years, those who are selected, let's really give this something so we get even more coverage.

Let's have a different format where the people who win the gold medal may be a mixed pair.

The Olympics is such a big thing. But we are being very picky because I'm going to say well done to golf for getting back in in the first place.

I thought it was great that McIlroy was big enough to say he made a mistake not going to Rio and he loved being at Tokyo. And that he's never tried as hard to come third in his life as he did in that seven-man playoff.

You can see it’s great viewing: seven players in the playoff for the bronze medal. And the six players that didn’t make it were absolutely distraught they could not get that bronze medal. This podium thing at the Olympics is huge. You all want to win the gold medal. And golfers more than anybody are used to trying to win – not to bring one medal for your country in the medal table is huge.

I just think golf could do a lot more in terms of format to make it more fun and enjoyable. To see the boys and girls playing together would be brilliant – and when you’re putting the rings on it makes it even more fun.

There's a lot of talk around mental health and wellbeing at the moment. My take on this is with sport, even at the very top level, this word enjoyment has got to be attached to it.

Golf is a game I love playing. I enjoy it. It's fun. I enjoy seeing my fellow players at the weekend. I really look forward to it. So whatever format you come up with, let's make it fun and enjoyable watching on the TV.

The BMX sports we have been watching – wow, you look at that, and it looks a fun thing to do.

So whatever you do, create something that's going to be really competitive, yes, but so people can see it’s a really enjoyable game when it's played well.

Golf is a great game because the values are good – the respect for rules is absolutely incredible. But let's create something for the Olympics that shows men and women enjoying playing the game. That's the number one thing. I love seeing the sports where you see real enjoyment on faces, even those who don't make the podium.

Should governing bodies in sport be judged on success at elite level or is their primary role to encourage participation at grassroots?

It’s a really good question. I first started to really think about it when I had this great role with the British Olympic Association. I was the director of sport for three Olympic Games: Beijing 2008, Vancouver in the Winter Olympics and then London 2012.

It was the first time I was able to look at sport as a whole. It's fascinating, because you've got UK Sport, and their funding is very much geared around medals. They make no apologies for that. That's what they get the funding for. Then you’ve got Sport England, where the funding is all based around participation, which I think is a great model.

To answer your question succinctly, I think it's both. It simply is both.

My only caveat is that I think sometimes we could do a lot more at grassroots level for sports that are cheap and easy to play, like basketball and table tennis. I think there are some sports that really are great fun and are great opportunities.

But let's be clear, at the Olympics, all everyone talks about is the medal table. And that's where UK Sport does a pretty good job. It's not an easy job because they allocate funding based on where they think they're going to win medals.

Let's be brutally honest, we're not going to win a gold medal in basketball or table tennis in a four-year cycle. So you've got to invest a lot of money at the bottom level. I think when you see the amount of money the government has spent on Covid, there needs to be a lot more money spent on both medal sports, and also participation sports.

I was lucky enough to live in Australia for five years. We think they're mad on sport but it’s only when you live abroad and come back here that you realise we are absolutely a sports-nuts country. I'd love to see far more money going into basketball, table tennis and these kinds of sports that I think are great fun. It's so good for our society, as a country, that we get a lot of people active, and the ongoing benefits in terms of health are clearly obvious.

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