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July 11, 2016
Troon, South Ayrshire, Scotland
MALCOLM BOOTH: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and welcome to this International Golf Federation press conference. To my immediate right we're joined by Anthony Scanlon, the Executive Director of the IGF. To his right, Peter Dawson, the President of the IGF, and to his right, Ty Votaw, Vice President of the IGF.
We'll open it up for questions in one second, but before we do, Peter has a brief statement that he's going to readout. Peter?
PETER DAWSON: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for being here. I'd like to start off by thanking the R&A for making this facility available this afternoon to the IGF and to wish, Malcolm, you and your colleagues all the best for a great Open Championship. I'm sure it will be.
Well, we're only 25 days away from Rio Olympic games opening ceremony, and 31 days away from the first Olympic golf event at that games. I think in the context of our 112-year absence from the Olympics, it's all getting very close now, and we're certainly very excited to be part of what is the world's biggest sporting event.
We've had plenty of obstacles to overcome along the way, but we now have a wonderful golf course created by Gil Hanse, and helped by Amy Alcott. And I think the players are going to have a wonderful experience, not just in the golf competitions, but also through being Olympians, alongside athletes from the other 27 sports, and I think they'll find it's a privilege to be part of it.
Now today is qualification day when the Olympic golf rankings determine the 60 men and 60 women who will be eligible to be entered for the Olympic competition by their respective national Olympic committees. The details of who has qualified have just been published. Sadly we've been advised today that Victor Dubuisson, K.T. Kim, and Jordan Spieth are not available to play. But it's particularly gratifying that 34 countries will be represented in the men's event, 34 in the women's event, and 40 countries overall.
Now it's been a very, very long road to get to this point. 15 years in my own case, and I'd like to take the opportunity to thank everyone involved for all their hard work and dedication, which has made Olympic golf a reality. I keep thinking back to how it all began, and it was the smaller countries, smaller countries in golfing terms who said to us if we could get golf into the Olympics, it would massively increase exposure for our sport, greater government interests, and more government funding. And in short, quite apart from broadening golf's competitive landscape, this is very much the biggest grow-the-game opportunity available to us.
I think one measure of that is that the number of federations, the number of organizations, national organizations and membership of the IGF in the time since we were voted into the games in Copenhagen in 2009, has risen from 105 to 147, and I think that is a measure of how much golf is spreading around the world.
Anyway, it's the biggest grow-the-game opportunity we have, and I'm absolutely determined we're going to make the most of it.
It's been a privilege for me to work alongside Ty Votaw and Anthony Scanlon, and I'll ask them now if they have anything they'd like to add.
TY VOTAW: No, I'm fine.
ANTONY SCANLON: I'm fine.
PETER DAWSON: Thank you. We'll open it up to questions, Malcolm.
Q. Peter and Ty and Anthony, do you feel like you've done everything possible in regards to making sure that this field is the best field it could be?
TY VOTAW: I think we have. I think it's been a set of unique circumstances that has developed over the past year or so with respect to the decisions that players have made to decide to participate or not to participate. But in terms of our outreach, our education, our trying to get them to understand what all the issues are and what the risks and other factors may be, we think we have done everything we can to educate them in the best possible way.
PETER DAWSON: Just to add to that, we have invested a huge amount of time and effort on player education and they've had no lack of opportunity, I think, to make their own well-informed decisions about what they want to do. It's certainly disappointing that we've had so many withdrawals on the men's side, and wonderful that all of the women have been very supportive.
I think I should say now that I don't think it's appropriate for us to discuss individual cases, especially as they're generally decisions have been taken on health grounds.
Speaking collectively though, there is no doubt that the number of withdrawals hasn't shed golf in the best light. Hasn't shown golf in the best light, and we have to accept that. But we do understand why these individual decisions have been taken.
Personally, I think there's been something of an overreaction to the Zika situation, but that's for individuals to determine, and there's certainly a great deal of concern about this issue inside the game of golf, no doubt about that.
We have certainly faced a number of challenges, as I've said along the road, this is another one. But we remain confident that we'll stage two very exciting and compelling golf competitions in Rio. We have all of the top women playing, and I think the count is 8 out of the top 15 men are going to be playing. So we're going to have strong fields, and the players are going to have a wonderful experience. Anthony, would you like to add anything?
ANTONY SCANLON: No.
Q. Could I just clarify in Jordan Spieth's case, with Zika, was Jordan's sole reason given for not playing?
TY VOTAW: He called us earlier today just before this press conference, and he's going to be addressing his reasons for choosing not to participate tomorrow in his press conference. But in the phone call, it was out of concern for the health issues that we've been talking about.
Q. Also, from the IOC's point of view, why should they stand by golf as a long-term Olympic sport when so many players turned their back on it this time around?
PETER DAWSON: Well, that's a question we've obviously been thinking a lot about. And in an attempt to answer it, I'd just like Anthony to describe, so that we all fully understand what the process is going to be within the IOC for reviewing sports in 2017, and indeed not sports, but events. Anthony?
ANTONY SCANLON: Thanks, Peter. A lot has changed since 2009 when we're elected to the program. The IOC undertook a strategic study of looking at the long-term future of the Olympic movement, and within that a consideration was given to the Olympic program. One of the recommendations that came from this Agenda 2020, as they called the strategic document, was to change the way of reviewing the Olympic program from a sport-based review to an event-based review.
So in the Rio Olympics there are 306 events and the IOC will be reviewing each of those 306 events individually and then making a decision as to what events remain in the program for Tokyo and beyond. They've also made a strategic decision to allow organising committees to also add extra events to that, with that may come additional sports.
The other change that's been a positive one for golf and for rugby is since that time, the Olympic charter has been changed to allow both rugby and golf to be listed as one of the international federations in sports that can be considered for the Olympic program. So that's a considerable change to where we were in 2009.
Q. Anthony, that being said, can you give us at least generally what the criteria is in regards to determining if an event should stay or not stay in?
ANTONY SCANLON: Sure, they're varied. Starting with television viewing, that's one of the major components of that across 30 major markets. Written press, social media across 60 to 100 different markets around the world. So it's very wide-ranging. Very much media-focused, and as I said, one of the primary indicators for the sports is television viewing across the major markets.
PETER DAWSON: I think what's important though to get across, some of the coverage I've read in the media about golf's position, is that golf and rugby are not being singled out in any way for review in 2017. It's the whole program of Olympic sports, not just golf or the other new ones.
Q. The only other question is does corporate support for the sport have anything to do with the review process?
ANTONY SCANLON: Not specifically, no.
Q. Ty, do you suspect that going forward that the extenuating circumstances we've seen here, obviously the majority of these withdrawals are due to Zika, maybe a couple on the scheduling front, but would you guys stress that going forward as an extenuating circumstance, especially since you won't have the opportunity to put forth another Olympic golf tournament prior to the decision?
TY VOTAW: I think that one of the things that we're going to point to most readily is the competitions themselves in 31 days when they start. I think a lot has been in the run-up to the games talked about some of these unique circumstances that have been laid out and covered by the media. But at the end of the day what will ultimately be our best case for any discussion on any level will be the competitions themselves. I think that once we understand how those play out in front of a worldwide audience for television, a digital audience, an enthusiastic on-site audience, I think those are the things that we're going to be focused on in making sure that the players who are there and the players who are competing are having the best possible experience they can, and put the best possible presentation on.
ANTONY SCANLON: And we've got a wonderful stage with Gil Hanse's design, really. It's a fantastic course. And the images that will come from that will radiate around the world strongly, I'm sure.
PETER DAWSON: I think it's worth remembering as well that the withdrawals that we've experienced have primarily come from four countries: Australia, Ireland, South Africa and the United States. They're certainly strong golfing countries, no question about that. But they are a very small minority of the 143 countries in the membership of the IGF. So we're going to have more than 40 nations competing in Rio. So I'd like to get that into context.
I think it's also worth remembering the tennis experience when they came back into the Olympics in, I think it was 1988. They had quite a lot of difficulty attracting the top players to play, and just look at it now in the intervening years; tennis has become a very significant Olympic sport and very well supported by the top players. I think golf will take a little bit of time as well. But I don't think it will take that long.
Q. If events have been reviewed individually, does that mean that the ladies event could stay in and the men's event could get kicked out technically?
PETER DAWSON: I would think that's technically possible but unlikely.
Q. Peter, do you think that the Zika scare is simply being used by players as a get-out when they didn't really have much enthusiasm in the first place? Also do you find it extraordinary that women who have more to lose from Zika are going in numbers and men aren't?
PETER DAWSON: Well, the answer to the second part is I don't think we'd have predicted it going that way, but it has.
I have no knowledge that people are using Zika as an excuse. I think there is a genuine concern about this, not just amongst the players but among their families, their wives and their girlfriends and so on. And I think it's genuine.
What I'm hoping is that when we come to play in Tokyo in 2020 at Kasumigaseki that the top players do support Olympic golf. I think it's very important that they do. As I've said before, it's the biggest grow-the-game opportunity available, and we need grow-the-game opportunities. And I can't think of a better way for players to give back to the game, frankly, than to support Olympic golf.
Q. Anthony, how many sportsmen or athletes are showing up in the Olympics from one to the other about?
ANTONY SCANLON: Across all of the sports?
ANTONY SCANLON: Approximately 10 and a half thousand.
Q. How many do you think will withdraw at this because of Zika?
ANTONY SCANLON: To be honest with you, I haven't taken a running count to any other sports, I've just been focusing on ours.
Q. To my knowledge, not that many. Golf is a very bad example, really, to have all those guys, number one, number two, number three, and number four dismissing and not showing up. It hurts.
ANTONY SCANLON: As Peter said, it's disappointing, yes.
Q. It hurts?
PETER DAWSON: There is no denying that. Wouldn't attempt to.
Q. Peter, is this in some way a generational problem in that you have people like Colin Montgomerie leading the bid in 2009, whereas some of the players involved today not only just turned professional, they weren't the ones asking for golf to be in the Olympics?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we had massive support in 2009 from both the top men and the top women. You may remember that film that we put together where they all came out in support. It's true to say that the top players today are by and large different people from the ones that were talking then. Whether there's been a sea change in opinion, I don't actually think so. I think you're going to see golf come through as a strong Olympic sport. And importantly a strong and supportive member of the Olympic movement and Olympic family. It's not just about the games. It's what happens as well in the intervening four years, and Anthony is a great ambassador for the game in leading our efforts at cooperating with the IOC.
Q. Anthony, sort of following on from the point that's been made that golf seems to be out on a limb, if you like, in that it's only golf, it would seem, that is concerned with Zika. Is there anything about the golf event that makes the players more vulnerable to the possibility of Zika? The fact that they're outdoors for longer or the location of the course or anything like that?
ANTONY SCANLON: Well, I think you're recounting some of the statements that some of the players have said and the reasons why they're concerned is that the time that they are out, if you like, in the elements and exposed to those risks. However, we have to stress that this is still winter, and wintertime the risks diminish considerably, and the facts have shown that since the change of the season.
So within the course itself, I think, sure, we do have water and we're surrounded by that, but certainly the risk is diminished. And that risk is there, and that's a decision for each of the players to assess, and some have assessed it as a risk too high.
PETER DAWSON: I take great heart though from the fact we haven't lost a greenskeeper yet, and it is going to be winter time.
Q. Jordan Spieth said a couple of weeks ago that players hadn't been given enough information about the concerns. Are you happy with the information you've gotten across to the players?
TY VOTAW: Well, as I said, Jordan can address some of that tomorrow when he comes in for his press conference. But I think over the past 12 to 18 months there have been -- there's been no small amount of conversations and information shared with players across the board, across all the issues that they raised with us. There was a meeting at Akron last week with the four U.S. players that were at that point eligible to compete, and those conversations have gone on across the board, across every other country that have been represented on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour.
Q. What do you make of the criticism that the prospect of an Olympic gold medal simply doesn't hold the same weight for golfers as it does for athletes in other sports?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think it is true that for many players, not all, but for many players a major golf championship today they regard as the pinnacle of the game.
I don't actually think that matters. I think there's still room for them to go and play in the Olympic games. They play most weeks of the year not at major championships, so they're not exclusively playing in majors. I just don't think it actually matters at this point whether they regard it as much as a major or not, frankly. It doesn't stop them going to play.
I do think this is more about the health issues than anything else.
TY VOTAW: In looking at tennis, for example, you'd look back in 1988, John McEnroe chose not to play in those Olympic games. In fact, he competed in a tennis event in Los Angeles the same week as the Olympics. His comments then at that point were similar to other comments you've just made. But since that time after seeing Andre Agassi win the gold medal in Atlanta, and seeing some of the women players and Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal react the way they have to their Olympic achievement, he's come around and said the exact opposite, that he regrets not playing in the Olympics.
You talk to Serena Williams, who said if her house was burning down, she said the only thing she'd run into the house to get would be her Olympic gold medal. And tennis, as Peter mentioned, it's almost 30 years now and it's taken time for that kind of equity to be built up in the sport. We've never said when golf is in the Olympics it's going to be more important than or greater in importance than the other significant events in golf. It's just in addition to it. It's another opportunity for us to take advantage of the platform of the Olympic games and the audience that that represents to demonstrate to the world that golf is a sport that they should participate in.
ANTONY SCANLON: Between each Olympics there's 16 opportunities for the men to win a major and for the ladies 20. So gold medals are scarce to come by.
Q. Anthony, Camilo Villegas is on this list. There have been reports that he's pulling out. Is that not true?
ANTHONY SCANLON: That was not true. Yes, he is playing.
Q. Do you know these, versus the world rankings, do you know the strength of field of this Olympic field?
TY VOTAW: We haven't.
PETER DAWSON: We haven't worked that one out today, but we need to do that.
Q. Are you worried about the political and social situation in Brazil right now?
ANTONY SCANLON: To be honest, I've been there 25 times in the last five years. At no stage have I felt threatened by any security issues, nor have I been in a situation where I've felt unsafe. On the political side, I must say my experience dealing with the municipality of Rio and the mayor has been outstanding. They've been extremely supportive, very supportive of the golf club and the golf course.
So given the experiences I've had, no. There are no issues with that.
Q. And the information I have, police people are not paid anymore since something like two months.
ANTONY SCANLON: Well, that's an issue for the state government. The state or provincial government are the ones funding the police. Our understanding is there are in excess of 70,000 soldiers that will come into Rio during these games. I think that's double what they had in London. So when you add that amount of security forces to the area, I think it will be a very safe place to be.
Q. The schedule is quite busy this year, as we all know, and you can kind of sense that from the players. I'm curious if any consideration was given in the planning up to this stage of perhaps moving the PGA Championship to the end of August, pushing back the FedExCup to take time off in golf and create a break, and do you think that's caused part of the problem?
TY VOTAW: I don't -- I think one of the great things about this process has been how all the various golf organizations around the world, not only the national federations but also the professional tours and the governing bodies of the sport have come together to make this possible.
The adjustments were made in the schedule for this year. People can debate as to how effectual those changes have been in terms of putting this event in the middle of the schedule and such. We're going to have the same issue in Tokyo when the dates are going to be a little earlier in the season than Rio is, and those are things we'll talk about after these games are over to see how those types of things can be looked at, adjusted.
Everybody has made sacrifices in getting us to this point. How much those are willing to sacrifice further is something we're going to talk about.
Q. From a Tour standpoint, what did you sacrifice?
TY VOTAW: We took a leadership position in putting the Olympics in and making sure that we helped get the golf course built. We helped get all of the various messaging points associated with the bid process itself, and we've worked with all the other governing bodies in the sport to get to where we are today.
Q. I think I meant in terms of scheduling. Do you feel you made enough of a sacrifice in terms of your schedule?
TY VOTAW: Well, we have a number of sponsors and events and television partners that do exist and adjustments were made, and changes to traditional dates were made for various tournaments and those are being affected right now. Travelers goes later in the year as it usually does, as does John Deere. Those were sacrifices made for those tournaments, certainly.
MALCOLM BOOTH: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for attending today.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports