That’s Enough Old Sport

That’s Enough Old Sport

Golf is one of Scotland’s most famous, and best loved, exports to the world.  Coming on the back of Andy Murray’s spectacular win at Wimbledon this summer, the Open Championship at Muirfield ought to have been a fine conclusion to the country’s summer of sporting triumph.

Sadly however the attention both before and during the tournament at Muirfield centred not on its opportunity to boost Scotland’s reputation globally before next year’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup, but instead on its outdated men-only members policy.

It is not often you find SNP and Tory Government Ministers agreeing on much, nor I suspect does the casual political observer in Scotland relate much with Tories either.  Just as Cameron and Salmond joined forces in the royal box at the All England Tennis Club for Murray’s victory, however, Maria Miller the Tory Culture Secretary undoubtedly struck on a common note of concern with our First Minister in outlining concerns over sport’s perennial problem – it’s perception as the last bastion of society yet to catch up with the rest of us.

The reason for my interest in this I have to say is personal.  I admit to being something of a golf fan.  Not – I hasten to add – the type who heads out every weekend with the boys to whack a ball about a field.  More the sort who will put it on the TV all weekend as an excuse not to leave the front room.

In April 2013 the US Masters were held at Augusta, Georgia, and the BBC had their commentators at the ready, presumably for reasons of continuity and that warm feeling of safety you get when knowing some things will never change.  This year for me however was different.  During the coverage I took exception to two words used by BBC commentators to describe two players.  One was described as a ‘chinaman’ and the other, an Argentinian player speaking off mic, was suggested he might be shouting ‘gringos’ to an unidentified person/s unseen by the camera.

Now whether I had heightened sensitivity when watching the Masters this time around which hadn’t registered before, or whether this was a one-off, the comments irked me enough that I emailed the BBC to complain.

Here is an excerpt from their response –

“…the commentator used his name and described his as “the Chinaman” but this wasn’t “racist” – it was nothing more than similarly describing Lee Westwood as the Englishman; Rory McIlroy as the Northern Irishman; Padraig Harrington as the Irishman; or Sandy Lyle as the Scotsman…

“Hardly evidence of displaying racial prejudice or discrimination, you’ll agree…

“…the mention of “Gringo” when witnessing Angel Cabrera remonstrating with the crowd was not “racist” and just couldn’t be judged in this context to be offensive in any way…

“…we have to deduce that viewers took the commentators’ words in the way in which they were intended, that being factual turn of phrase in the first instance and relevant yet light-hearted turn of phrase in the second…”

Incidentally, they took almost a month to respond.

Pondering their reply, I decided to send my own missive, and the BBC reply, to Show Racism the Red Card, a charity dedicated to ending discrimination in sport.

Unlike the BBC, their (abridged) response took less than 24 hours –

“We are grateful you’ve brought it to our attention and we are shocked by the BBC’s response to what is clearly offensive terminology. 


“[We] agree whole-heartedly with you that the use of “Chinaman” is offensive.  This is stated as the case in both “New Fowler’s Modern English Usage” AND the “Cambridge Guide to English Usage.”  It’s different to calling Sandy Lyle a Scotsman or Rory McElroy a Northern Irishman because these terms have not been used throughout history in a derogatory or defining fashion.    For instance, Chinese settlers to the US in the 19th Century were recorded as “John or Jake Chinaman” as the census recorders couldn’t be bothered to note the person’s real name and “Johnny Chinaman” quickly became a commonplace insult.  

“Similarly, “Gringo” has been used historically in a derogatory way by Spanish/Portuguese-speaking Americans to refer to English-speaking Americans….the commentator actually had no idea what Angel Cabrera said to the crowd and to “joke” he was using this casual racist term is both presumptuous and offensive.”
The reason my correspondence with the BBC over their US Masters coverage springs to mind is because commentator John Inverdale, during BBC 5 Live coverage prior to the Women’s Singles Final at Wimbledon, and a lead anchor at the Muirfield Open just days later, described the eventual Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli on air as “never going to be a looker”.  Thus it was he incurred Maria Miller’s wrath, who wrote to the BBC in strong terms asking what action would be taken.

One has to wonder why the BBC felt the need to censure John Inverdale, not by removing him from his post, but instead by chiding him privately.  Does one commentator really merit protection when using language such as he did?  Surely the BBC, paid for by us, should instead be sending a message out to the public that to define a professional sportswoman by her appearance, and not by her athletic prowess, is not a belief either representative of society at large, nor one we should be saying to youngsters interested in sport that is acceptable.

In the middle of all this, golfer Sergio Garcia and subsequently George O’ Grady, Chief Executive of golf’s European Tour, in defending him, dropped racist remarks again without being officially chastised, shaming the sport in the process.

The answer to why this is relevant to Scotland is quite clear.  ‘The R&A Golf Club’, who until 2004 were the sports lead ruling body, and which prides itself on being based in St. Andrew’s, marketed internationally as ‘The Home of Golf’, also has a men-only membership policy.  With reorganisation in 2004 ‘The R&A’ was set up separately to administer the rules, therefore exempt from the men-only membership difficulty, but which is largely made up of Committee Members from The R&A Golf Club.  Sound confusing?  It is.

The man (obviously) who was thrown under the bus during the international coverage of Muirfield’s men-only position, was Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A.  Having read, watched and listened to the coverage of the Muirfield Open debacle as it rolled on, I couldn’t help feel that he must be cursing the day job.

What didn’t escape attention however was the reality that Peter Dawson, Muirfield, and the players were not the only ones tarnished by this mess.

Golf as a whole, and Scotland – repeatedly in media coverage it was noted that the majority of single-sex clubs were in this neck of the British Isles – looked embarrassingly out of touch.

When you have a Conservative PM talking about a Scottish issue and seeming ahead of the flock, then you have a problem.

Rather than wait 10 years until the next time Muirfield may be the venue of the biggest Championship in golf, The R&A need to say the word and end what is essentially a situation making them look bad, golf look bad, and Scotland look bad.

It was enough this time around to make this TV golfer not bother turning on the screen.  And I’m not certain that I could bring myself to do it until the sport gets its act together, and the culture within sport as a whole, including some of the dinosaurs inhabiting the commentary boxes, are wrenched into the 21st century.


Back in April, the situation was capably described by a journalist when they pointed out to Peter Dawson –


The perception will always trump facts. Those who wish to see you as gin-soaked, middle class misogynists, will see you like that.”
After Muirfield, that perception has not been lifted.  It has been made even worse.


Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause

To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland;  Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire, and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs.   Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956 – 60;  in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.
We are 15 months from a Referendum on Scottish Independence, which was unthinkable in 1955;  Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85.  We intend to publish all Jimmy’s articles in the Scots Independent from August 2004 up to 2011, all the ones we have electronic input for.  It is anticipated we will publish a book on Jimmy’s contributions over many years, but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.

Covenant, collaboration and chicanery – Dec 2004

SCOTS chose after 1945 to favour Scottish Convention over the SNP. Party members were disheartened and public interest diminished by the disappointing General Election performance, which seemed to prove, to members and public alike, that the Party’s chosen methods held out small hopes of success.

Convention membership offered a much more comfortable experience. Members just had to identify themselves as such to their neighbours, and give support to any campaign devised by the leadership. This level of commitment was such as might be given to a leisure activity, easily combined with the daily tasks of comfortably-off people who might otherwise have turned to bridge or golf.  Convention members were to respond and follow, not to initiate.

Initiative came from the top. The fertile mind of John MacCormick provided his followers with a rolling programme of activity. Distribution of leaflets, sales of pamphlets, and public meetings all kept up enthusiasm. Local plebiscites revealed the strength of Home Rule sentiment in places as diverse as Scotstoun and Kirriemuir, and the successful convening of Scottish National Assemblies came as the culmination and vindication of MacCormick’s long search for consensus.

Even at this high point of success King John had still more to offer. From the third National Assembly in October 1949 he secured approval for the nation-wide circulation of the Scottish Covenant whose signatories pledged themselves to give their highest voting priority to Home Rule. This was as brilliant a tactical stroke as has ever been seen in Scottish politics, and two million signatures rewarded its sponsor.

Enemies then and since claimed forgery, fakery, flippancy – all the defects that commonly attend lists of this sort. Do not believe these sneers. The numbers made public were exactly those arrived at and reported, after scrutiny, to the committee of the Covenant Association, as the Convention had now been renamed.

The signatures were there all right. What was lacking was any means of enforcing the promise that the writers professed. Sadly, all one can be sure of is that there were around two million liars in Scotland.

With two million bargaining counters to hand the Association now tried to extort concession from Britain’s politicians, who had clearly been taken aback by the success of the Covenant campaign. They recovered quickly however and hopes were shattered when Hector McNeil, Labour’s Secretary of State, and James Stuart, his Tory counterpart, both stated that if the Scottish people desired self-government they could achieve it only through the ballot box.

Suddenly the hope that Scotland could achieve Home Rule when a united Scottish request met a generous and friendly British response lay cruelly dashed. Election success was now a requirement imposed by those who assumed it could never be met. The Covenant could not bind its signatories and thus could not coerce politicians. Its chosen strategy had proved unable to defeat those who obstructed Scottish aspirations, but it had raised the intensity of these aspirations. For the first time, probably, since 1707, a nation-wide awareness of and desire for Scottish identity had been revealed, and the excitement of these few years stimulated Nationalist activities in the future.

In particular, remember with respect and gratitude a quite remarkable man blessed with originality, vision and commitment. When John MacCormick died, the Covenant Association died too as the prominent persons whose support he had secured gradually returned to the eminence of their private lives.

And he knew what it all proved. Exactly fifty years ago, when I was asked to become SNP candidate in Stirling, I sought out John MacCormick and asked his opinion. “Hold off,” he said. “The Covenant Association will soon be contesting elections.”