Thursday, January 26, 2012

Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Tournament 2012: Sand dunes, Sport, and Social Class

Andrew Redington | AP Photo

Andrew Redington | AP Photo

Andrew Redington | AP Photo

The morning paper carried the top photo on the front of the Sports section. It was enough to make me stop at the Sports section! Obviously a publicity photo, this one nevertheless genuinely captures the eye, and attention, even as one instantly recognizes that this isn't the usual sand trap on the Abu Dhabi or any golf course.

Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Tournament 2011, eventual winner Martin Kaymer of Germany, taking his second shot on the 18th hole. (Getty Images)

Martin Kaymer on the 18th hole during the 2011 Tournament--sand and water traps!

More standard publicity photos, of famous golfers with members of an Emirati dance troup, are appealing in their own way, but lack the splendor of nature, and the juxtaposition of nature and man's attempts to define it, that the ones on the 250ft dunes do.

David Cannon | AP Photo

David Cannon | AP Photo

David Cannon | AP Photo

The logo of an event is its most ubiquitous marketing tool, even if eclipsed in interest by the other images and information it accompanies.



Below it is particularly noticeable at the award ceremony in 2011.

Martin Kaymer of Germany is presented with the trophy by His Highness Sheikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan The National Security Advisor, Vice Chairman of the Executive Council, and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council after winning the 2011 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship held at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 23, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Getty Images)

The main reason I thought it relevant to do a post on this golf tournament and the publicity shots for it is because sport is one way of maintaining a culture, sharing it with others, enjoying healthy competition, and uniting internationally or cross-culturally, whether it be on a small scale individually, as part of an immigrant experience, as one way to socialize and experience a culture while an international student; or, as part of a more institutionalized and commercially grand enterprise.

More specifically, golf is a sport which originated in Scotland (at least that is the major accepted view), and has spread around the world. Golf also has very distinct social class associations, traditionally reserved for the privileged and those wealthy enough to want to join them. This continues to be true in countries where the game has been more recently introduced. Yet they too are following a pattern of social extension through the classes until it has become in some countries, like Morocco, a desired sport and social skill for young professionals, particularly those in business--a more long established phenomenon in North America. Much business is done over golf games, still.

Also in North America, golf has extended to the middle classes, the weekend golfer, through public golf courses with lower membership fees, and lower day fees for non-members. Before golf became trendy through media marketing of the game and its "stars", and perhaps in synergy, golf gained renewed interest as a participant sport through a deliberate broadening of potential players. As is often the case in these situations, women became part of the target audience. No more sitting about lamenting being a "golf widow", women were encouraged to play too.

II had my own experience of the cross-cultural and social class aspects of golf when my Dad retired. When people would ask me what he did, I would laugh and say, "Oh, he just retired, so now he golfs". I got fast at picking up the subtle cues that this made my interlocutor assume vast social class superiority, and would take the opportunity to explain, wherein I learned more about the social class status of golf in their countries--often very high only, and sometimes the only golf courses were the Royal ones, reserved for the Royals and their guests.

When my mother retired, I realized that my "Oh, she just retired, so now she plays bridge" elicited similar reactions (you would think I would have learned!), with similar outcomes, though bridge has not been quite the royal preserve that golf has been, as it is so much more accessible materially (a deck of cards, preferably a bridge deck, will suffice), even though often people take lessons at the start (also available inexpensively through public and community programs). Bridge is also more associated with women or couples. Somehow, a bunch of guys getting together for a night of bridge isn't part of the popular imagination, though it happens. Omar Sharif probably did more for the machismo of bridge than anyone else!

Omar Sharif playing bridge in Istanbul

Though listed as Omar Sharif playing bridge, this looks rather more like his other card interests, to me. No doubt there was a halo effect of machismo from gambling games to professional bridge, both of which are associated with Omar Sharif.

Certain sports, despite the heights or depths they achieve, retain associations with high or low culture. Football (soccer) is highly accessible and a passion for all strata whether as a pickup game or as a spectator for the World Cup. One can say the same of basketball, in North America and increasingly in other countries, as a street game and a professional sport.

Boxing is a sport where the poor fight for the wealth of promoters and to rise up out of their social impoverishment. As such, different immigrant groups have gone through the process of being among the poor who have dominated in this sport. While the immigrant group depends on the era and the country, Irish and Italians in North America come to mind historically, now Hispanics, and Maghrebis in Europe (France especially that I am aware of). Because of unique social factors, including segregation and ongoing social difficulties, African Americans were later to the ring but continue to be there.

Canada's national obsession (so we are told), hockey (not the official national sport, lacrosse is),is an expensive sport, except maybe for shinny (pickup), yet has a working class image based on the history of the game, and who played for the team owners. Most players were from very poor backgrounds, whether urban or rural, French or English Canadian. Breweries were major owners of traditional teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, such that big business was involved but hidden behind a glass of beer at home or at the bar. Currently it is quite expensive to raise a hockey player, especially one in the competitive leagues that feed the professional sport or even the university level sport.

Certain sports like polo and falconry seem still to be the purview of royalty. Fencing remains "aristocratic" even though it is taught at public universities in Canada (almost all universities in Canada are primarily publicly funded). Formula 1 racing may draw many fans but is expensive to practice or attend. That makes it an elite sport even though "grease monkeys" are involved.

As for a personal relationship with the sports mentioned here, I don't golf (as an MD I am too young for the Wednesday afternoon off for golf phenomenon, wrong gender, and would find something else to do if pressed); I prefer low tech more individual sports, and as I have written about, I was a competitive synchronized swimmer at the university level (see Cross Cultural Misunderstandings—Part I Truth, Lies, and Laundry). I did attend a Formula 1 Grand Prix event, in Monaco, in the "cheap seats" (free, standing on the streets above the course) once as a student--boring, and unusually "bad" weather. I don't box, or play polo, and falconry scares me. Soccer and basketball I consider "sports I was forced to play in school".

As for hockey, I am more aware of the historical and socio-cultural political place of hockey in Canada and French Canada than I am of current goings on in the NHL, with the exception of head injury research, and the money politics of what city gets a team. As a spectator I only watch hockey live, only house league, only the games my nephew is playing (currently a PeeWee, ie 12 year old, goalie). In short, "My name is Chiara, and I am a hockey aunt".

To return to the beginning of the post, if there are spectacular sand dunes to be visited, I might be persuaded to "attend" a golf tournament!

Which type of publicity photo do you prefer? Why?
What are your social impressions of specific sports? How were they formed?
What social or cross-cultural role do/ have sports played for you?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

The trophy awaits the 2012 winner!

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