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Olympics will help develop golf Redgrave

If the Olympics is supposed to be the pinnacle of a particular sport then do golf, rugby, tennis and football belong at the Summer Games?

Golf after all has the Masters, and it's tough to imagine Adam Scott valuing his win yesterday over one in Rio in 2016. Tennis meanwhile has four Grand Slam events which all rank higher in prestige, and tradition, than the Games.

Of the four sports Sir Steve Redgrave, a five-time Games gold medallist, believes the first three do, isn’t sure about the last, would add netball to the list, and doesn’t think any of the traditional sports, such as wrestling, has a right to be included.

There was a time when Sir Steve might not have backed golf’s inclusion, but now he looks at the discussion from a different point of view than the ‘purist’ stance he once adopted.

“It’s really difficult. For the majority of the sports, it (the Olympics) is the pinnacle. In athletics, rowing, maybe not equestrian, but it’s certainly up there, gymnastics, swimming, most of the sports, the Olympics is the pinnacle,” he said. “They all have their major championships, but that’s above everything else. I think the Olympics will become the pinnacle for Rugby Sevens.

“I was very much a purist along those sorts of lines. But, you’ve got to look at it from a slightly different avenue.

“The golf hierarchy are absolutely over the moon that they’re involved, because they see it as very much a developing tool for golf around the world.

“If you look at it from that point of view, as well as the commercial reasons of having the megastars of the sports involved, that then gives all those developing countries an excuse of developing the game of golf, which is an important part of it.”

His experiences at the 1992 Games in Barcelona largely shaped his views on professional athletes in the Games. That was the year that the US sent their Dream Team, which included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkely, to compete in the basketball.

For Redgrave having multi-millionaire superstars, at what he considers an amateur sporting event, went against the ethos of the Olympics. He also objected to what he perceived as their stand-offish approach, as the megastars stayed in hotels, and not with the rest of the athletes at the Olympic Village.

“When the Dream Team came in to Barcelona (in 1992), I was against that … of having multi-millionaires, coming in and sort of taking over, of what I’d seen to be more of a purist, amateur, sporting event,” he said.

“But then, what’s the difference between what I did training wise, and what an American basketball star did, or, what a professional tennis player does. The commitment, the effort is the same, the only actual difference is that they pick up a pay-check at the end of it, and we don’t.

“Nowadays in athletics, there are so many different disciplines, some are world megastars, and some of them, nobody knows who they are.

“From that point of view, why shouldn’t (golfers, etc) have the opportunity to play.”

Ideally he would hope to see the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods embrace the Olympic spirit like Rafael Nadal and stay in the village with the rest. He recognises however, that can present its own set of problems.

“You have to have that flexibility though. Rafa Nadal loves being part of the Spanish team, he loves being in the village, being part of something bigger that he usually is week in, week out.

“Federer was the same in Beijing, but he got absolutely mobbed by other athletes in the village, so he couldn’t stay in the village because he wasn’t treated like another athlete … that was a shame in some ways, and I think that would be the same for Tiger Woods, or Rory McIlroy.”

The inclusion of the new sports has meant that some more established ones have been forced out. Wrestling is fighting to be included in 2020, along with squash and baseball, among others.

Wrestling was first included as an Olympic sport in 700BC, but even that status has not been enough to save it. And according to Redgrave, that’s exactly as it should be.

“I don’t think a sport should have an automatic right to be in the Olympics,” he said. “Society changes, views on things change. If it’s still an important thing on balance, worldwide, then it should stay in. But you’ve also got to justify why it should be there. You can’t just be in because you’ve always been in.”

To be considered an Olympic sport you have to have 64 nations playing at a high level, and as the sporting horizon changes, Redgrave believes netball is one sport that should be seriously considers as an Olympic event.

“Netball was trying to get in. And I think there are just over 60 nations that are registered to that level with the international federation. But, actually, if you’re looking to develop sport for women, it’s a really good sport,” he said.

“Especially for women in the Caribbean, Africa, they have some very big netball countries. The only countries that don’t really have netball is in Europe, apart from the UK.

“What they (netball) need to do to develop the sport in Europe and I’m sure they’d be in, because it’s such a good sport for women, and covering the countries you would love to be promoting. So it’s about getting that balance (between appeal and development) right.”

Sir Steve Redgrave looks on as Bermuda youth rowers take to the water. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published April 15, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 15, 2013 at 1:53 am)

Olympics will help develop golf Redgrave

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