To trickle down or trickle away

For many golfers this is the week of all weeks. The Ryder Cup takes place at ”Le Golf National”, just outside Paris. It has been a while since I was at my last Ryder Cup and I do have very fond memories. A team event such as the Ryder Cup in an individual sport like golf is a very special thing.

The bidding process for a Ryder Cup in many ways resembles other global sporting events. When the 2018 host was decided I was a lot closer to golf than I am today. I remember that France had an amazing campaign. Raising the sport’s profile and participation levels in France were the primary goals for pursuing the Ryder Cup. The event was put right at the heart of the French Golf Federation’s ambitions and it had all the necessary backing both from the city and the government.

Now, seven years later the week has come and for the first time ever the Ryder Cup is played without a representative from the host country on any of the teams. Clearly, that is a miscalculation for the French. Having said that, they may have done even better with Tiger Woods as a bit of a surprise on the American side. Things certainly weren’t looking that way only a while ago. And when asked, the Secretary General of the French Golf Federation says that if he had been given the choice between a French golfer and Tiger Woods for this Ryder Cup, he would have chosen Tiger Woods. The reason being that ”he can transform nongolfers into golfers.”

Ironically, on this Friday morning I had a very similar conversation with a number of Secretary Generals from Swedish Sport Federations. The difference being that we spoke about a possible Stockholm 2026, i.e Olympic and Paralympic Games , rather than the effects of a Ryder Cup. And based on the research in the area of the so called trickle down effect it is very likely that the main objective behind France’s Ryder Cup pursuit will fail. The effect of a major event on sport participation is very limited. Unless the event is coupled with some major other initiatives that can boost participation.

In golf in particular it seems like it is actually the other way around. From the figures collected by the Swedish Golf Federation it is evident that the final day of the men’s Olympic golf tournament in Rio was a really bad golf day. Rounds played dropped dramatically as golfers apparently preferred to watch tv instead of playing golf. However, it is also clear from the same figures that the years that Henrik Stenson is high up the rankings correlates with the years with the highest number of rounds played.

So in essence: No major event alone will save the participation rates for any sport. But if the sport has neither the event nor the superstars – it is likely to fade into the complete darkness of sports that were once talked about and once cared for, by more than the closest allies. And this, this may just be reason enough even for Stockholm 2026.

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