Sep 04, 2008

Lessons From the Olympics

I spent quite a bit of time watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics over the last few weeks. I loved witnessing the good sportsmanship that isn't dictated by national origin, language, or competitive spirit: Dara Torres helping Sweden's Therese Alshammar fix her ripped suit so she could swim in the semifinals of the 50 free, or Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell joking with one another before competing for gold.


But according to an article by Steve DeMiglio and Jerry Potter of USA Today, it doesn't appear the Olympic spirit is dominating the women's golf establishment right now. In fact, the LPGA is requiring women golfers on its tour to pass an English proficiency exam or face suspension. The rationale for the requirement, according to the LPGA and some supporters, is that golfers need to be able to communicate in English to fulfill duties other than playing golf, such as attending press conferences. But some speculate that this is an attack aimed at South Korean golfers, who represent 45 of 121 international women on the tour and have won several important titles.

I don't doubt English proficiency is a valuable asset for anyone playing professional golf in the United States. It probably wouldn't have hurt for Michael Phelps or Nastia Luikin to learn Mandarin while attending the Olympics in Beijing, either, but somehow they managed just fine. Beyond excelling in their events, I assume they gave interviews on Chinese television, probably got some great endorsements from Chinese companies, and managed not to seriously offend any Chinese Olympic officials.

So how are LPGA golfers different? Offering them the opportunity to learn English -- great idea. Inferring that they can't do their jobs without it? That seems a little implausible. While I don't doubt that learning English is sometimes a job requirement, it's hard to understand the rationale here, especially because (as with the Salvation Army case we talked about a few months ago) it seems that until now, everyone got along playing golf in the LGPA and not speaking proficient English just fine. With the Olympics so recently showing us that athletic skill and competition are a universal language, I'm unconvinced.

Update 9/8/08: It appears the LPGA has backed off its language requirement in the face of opposition from lawmakers and sponsors, and will not impose suspensions on players who don't meet English proficiency requirements. However, fining the players is still a possibility, a spokeswoman says.


Alayna Schroeder