With growing pressure to include golf in the Paralympics, we speak to Aimi Bullock from the European Disabled Golf Association to find out what she thinks.
If you’re as Olympic-obsessed as I am, you’ll have been hooked to the TV following the Olympics and Paralympics over the past month.
Honestly, I can’t get enough of it.
I’m in equal measures inspired, in awe and, quite frankly, amazed by the athletes.
And I’m not (at all) ashamed to say I get emotional at every single medal ceremony – whether team GB are on the podium or not.
Now as the games in Tokyo come to a close, whether golf should be in the Paralympics has become somewhat a topic du jour of late.
But despite growing momentum behind its inclusion, there doesn’t seem to be a sign of it appearing in the line-up of sports until 2028 at the earliest.
Golf and the Olympics: A complicated history
Golf first featured in the Olympics in Paris in 1900, and again in in 1904 in Normandy.
In the next Olympic games in 1908, a men's individual tournament was planned in London, but an internal dispute led to the tournament being boycotted.
Golf’s return to the Olympics more than a decade later in 2016 was controversial, with many of the big names bowing out in Brazil.
But Tokyo 2020 was a different story.
In the women’s event, world number one Nelly Korda took gold, whilst Mone Inami and Lydia Ko battled it out for the remaining podium spots. After an intense playoff, Inami claimed silver and Ko took bronze. Just as in the men’s tournament, the final day of the women’s event brought the drama we’d hoped for to properly showcase golf on the world stage.
So, why shoul golf be in the Paralympics?
A total of 23 sports were represented in the Paralympics this year, vs 43 in the Olympic games.
Amongst the sports to watch were wheelchair basketball and wheelchair fencing, five-a-side football, archery and rowing.
But golf was nowhere to be seen in the line-up.
Given that millions of people around the world tune into the Paralympics, are we missing a trick in being able to promote and grow disability golf?
If you ask me, it’s a resounding yes.
According to Golf Travel Centre’s recent report, “as more sports are played in high profile and well-funded events, such as the Paralympics, more individuals are likely to be inspired to get involved, and disabled communities will be elevated as a result. To that end, including more sports, such as golf, is an incredibly important part of growing the sport and the infrastructure around it.”
The report continues, “Across the globe, there are disabled golfers playing in professional tournaments, and in England, there are over 82,000 people with a disability participating in golf at least once a week (Sports England)."
So, why isn’t golf represented in the Paralympics? We speak to Aimi Bullock, Development Team Member at EDGA, the European Disabled Golf Association to find out what she thinks.
Do you think that golf should be included in the Paralympics?
It would be fantastic for golf to be included in the Paralympics. We have seen the success of golf's return to the Olympics, and golf's introduction to the Paralympics would have a massive impact on awareness, bringing the game to a new and global audience.
If golf was included in the Paralympics, how do you think that would impact participation in the sport?
Golf in the Paralympics will open the minds of people who have perhaps perceived golf to be exclusive. Far from it, golf has the opportunity to be one of the most, if not the most, inclusive ball sports of all.
The Paralympics has the power to create exposure to the game for people who never thought that golf was a sporting option for them. Governing bodies, clubs, and facilities will be challenged to improve their offer and training opportunities for all players and staff.
This will strengthen the existing player pathway of sample, participate, and compete. It is those competitive athletes who create a legacy and assist in the recruitment and mentoring of new players to the sport. Also, many of the existing players with a disability will strive to make their national team. Therefore the whole sport will benefit as multi-level participation increases.
It would be interesting to monitor the participation increase of Badminton post Paralympic games, which is a new addition to the Paralympic programme. I am confident that golf can match, if not exceed, this with a much broader age demographic able to play the game.
Why do you think there is such a disparity between sports in the Olympics and Paralympics?
There are fewer athletes at the Paralympic Games, which reduces the number of sports. There are also complex classification standards within the different sporting categories that the Olympics just do not require. Ticking all the boxes for inclusion in the Paralympic Games demands a considerable commitment of time, expertise and resources. So, it is not surprising that the Paralympics lags behind in the number of sports compared to the Olympics.
Golf has several pluses that we have to communicate better. Perhaps the most significant plus is that if golf were in the Paralympics, its athletes would not be playing a parallel or adapted version of the game. Golf will need to allocate players into sports classes, and this is detailed and specialised work to be able to level the playing field.
Do you think we’ll see golf in the Paralympics in the future?
Definitely, I think golf is ideally suited to the Paralympic Games. Almost every ball sport is played using one ball shared between competitors. As such, the most potent team or individual controls how well the opposition can play. Golf is not like that as we all have our own ball and cannot be physically influenced by other competitors.
The EDGA President, Tony Bennett, works with The IGF on disability and inclusion and is well-versed in what needs to be done to help golf into the Paralympics. EDGA has led the way with eligibility definitions for golf and are working with The IGF to ensure that golf can step up to meet the requirements for both classification and standardisation of formats.
For our part, EDGA continues to make progress with the successful implementation of a European Championship, World Ranking for Golfers with disability (WR4GD) and players competing at European Tour, Australian Tour and shortly on Ladies European Tour events. New events such as a future world championship, major international championships, and a future Paralympic championship must all gel together in a meaningful way, with all the national federations taking their responsibility seriously.
Why is golf a good sport for someone with a disability?
As mentioned before, golf is played using your own ball, so we control our game. The ball is also still, and as such, for players with conditions that affect their vision, mobility or balance, the very fact that each shot is premeditated means that they have the opportunity to prepare to play the stroke without the demands of trying to hit a moving object.
There are some hugely beneficial and now well-researched health and social benefits of playing golf. Generally, the game is played outdoors in the fresh air, we have space between players in a green environment, and the opportunity to compete and yet socialise as we play is hard to beat. The game demands so much from us in terms of our available concentration, tactics, physical literacy and awareness. Each shot provides real-time feedback from which we can strive to improve or simply learn to accept. This is a 360-degree game that is both rewarding and infuriating.
Also, golf is generally inclusive, so it is quite common for someone with a disability to participate and compete in the mainstream game and for others to be totally unaware of their disability. 40% of all disabilities are unseen, and these very players are in the community of golfers happily enjoying the game on their own terms. Golfers with a disability play most of their golf in the mainstream, but those that choose to apply for a pass and are approved can play or compete a number of times a year with other golfers who may have a similar or different type of disability.
Do you think there’s more to be done across the game in general to accommodate disabled golfers?
Yes, of course, society as a whole needs to be more inclusive, and sport is not immune. I think we are making progress, but more must be done.
Most golf facilities want to be as inclusive as possible. With some minor adaptions, golf can welcome individuals with a disability and provide a wonderful experience, turning an interested golfer into an avid one.
We should also see more inclusive employment opportunities within the golf industry, which is thankfully beginning to happen. As we can see, more women, for example, are taking leadership roles. I hope it will not be too long before we start seeing inclusion officers at golf clubs whose responsibility is not just to look at people with disability, or women, but the full spectrum of golfers and see them as we say in EDGA as "Golfers First".