Cooney and Black

Garciagate almost drove European tour chief to quit

Sergio Garcia
EUROPEAN TOUR chief executive George O’Grady threatened to resign in the wake of “Garciagate.” No Grey Areas can reveal that O’Grady had to be talked out of quitting after becoming embroiled in the race-related controversy that followed Sergio Garcia’s ill-judged comment concerning Tiger Woods.

The 33-year-old Spaniard created a furore when he took his long-year feud with Woods to a new low during an interview during the European Tour players’ dinner on the eve of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May.

When asked if he would invite Woods to dinner during the upcoming U.S. Open, Garcia replied: “I will have him over for dinner every night and we will serve him fried chicken.”

The remark caused outrage and forced the shame-faced Garcia to issue not one but two public apologies.

Garcia’s comment evoked memories of Fuzzy Zoeller’s equally inappropriate remark after Woods had won the Masters in 1997.

Zoeller – a past champion – caused an outcry when he commented that he hoped Woods would not order fried chicken for the traditional champions’ dinner where the menu is chosen by the holder of the green jacket.

Zoeller recently claimed that his remark was a “joke gone bad”, while Garcia pleaded ignorance.

But Garcia was totally stupid at best, if not deliberately racist, and the fact that he escaped with little more than a public slap on the wrist caused further outrage.

And the racism row took another ugly turn when O’Grady was forced to apologise for using inappropriate language during a television interview.

Ironically, O’Grady was trying to defend Garcia’s apology to Woods when he sparked a fresh storm.

“Most of Sergio Garcia’s friends are coloured athletes in the United States,” he said, and barely had the words been uttered by the 64-year-old than the backlash began.

Various groups including Show Racism The Red Card pilloried O’Grady for his faux pas on Sky and there were calls for O’Grady’s head.

O’Grady, who heads a staff of 155 at European Tour headquarters at Wentworth, moved quickly and issued an immediate apology for his racially hurtful terminology.

He said: “I deeply regret using an inappropriate word in a live interview for Sky Sports for which I unreservedly apologise.”

But that was not enough to satisfy some of O’Grady’s critics and the continuing fall out left the popular golf boss considering his position after 39 years with the European Tour, which has gone from strength-to-strength under his leadership.

An insider and close confidant of O’Grady told me: “George was very badly hurt and shocked by the reaction to what was an unfortunate and wholly unintended slip of the tongue.

“Anyone who knows him will be aware that George does not have a racist bone in his body and some of those who were quick to condemn him should know better.

“George gave serious consideration to his position, but, fortunately his closest colleagues rallied round him and he was persuaded against resigning.”

Without wishing to be an apologist for O’Grady, if he was guilty of idiocy it was born of a generational use of the words “coloured” and “black” rather than malice aforethought.

It is not so long ago that it was taboo in newspapers to describe a black athlete as “black” rather than “coloured.”

It was left to Colin Montgomerie – certainly no stranger to controversy himself – to urge the golf world to draw a line under Garciagate.

He said: “It’s a mountain out of molehill. Christ, we’re all frightened to say anything – we’re scared to open our mouths in case we say something that isn’t kosher in 2013.

“Somebody should tell us what to say because no one is quite sure what is right and wrong.

“George says coloured, somebody says black, but who is to say who is right and who is wrong?”

 

 

PICTURE COURTESY OF: Keith Allison

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