Up Front 06/11

I was surprised last month at how the premature death of golfer Seve Ballesteros affected me. I am not a golfer. Yes, in younger years, when I had more time and money to spare, I whiled away a few happy hours hitting a little white ball around well manicured fields, and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I never obsessed about the game. I didn’t strap myself in front of the television for days on end to watch the Open or the Ryder Cup. Yet hearing about the end of Seve’s battle with cancer at the age of 54 was a blow that took me a while to figure out. He won 87 titles over his career including the Open in 1979, 1984 and 1988 and won the Augusta Masters in 1980 and in 1983. His inspirational leadership also led to great Ryder Cup victories for the European team. However it isn’t these trophies that make him so memorable for me, it is the fact that his charisma and personality represent an era when sport had less of a corporate feel. Seve may have earned a reasonable income compared to the average man in the street but it didn’t compare to the heavily sponsored sports stars of today, where signing bonuses, endorsement deals and tournament prizes put earnings at jaw dropping figures. With the Olympics coming up next year I can’t help wondering what will attract our children to the various sports that will feature throughout the tournament. There will always be a lot of corporate money thrown at sports like boxing, football, tennis and now golf, but who is going to want to pursue a career in archery, fencing, handball, water polo or even synchronised swimming? In the late seventies personalities like Seve Ballesteros helped elevate golf to a wider viewing public, thus paving the way for high earners like Tiger Woods. It will be interesting to see what personalities can put new sports onto the high earnings trail after the next Olympics.