With Donald Trump a keen player, tournament offers chance for Europe to show united front
As the Ryder Cup tees off for the first time in France this weekend, at a vast course beyond the Palace of Versailles, golf is becoming a new focus of soft power diplomacy in an era of a US president who is not merely loves the links but owns numerous courses.
The tournament that pits top US golfers against top Europeans is the world’s most-watched sporting event after the Olympics and the football World Cup- one of the last huge athletics rivalries still limited to western nations from each edge of the Atlantic.
At a day when European relations with the US president, Donald Trump, are increasingly complicated- from US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear arrangement, to unilateral tariffs on steel and aluminium- the fairway photo opportunity could be loaded with political metaphor.
France- where fewer people play golf than tennis, horse-riding or judo- is a newcomer to hosting the Ryder Cup and wants to showcase its facilities before the 2024 Paris Olympics. It is 25 years since an American team last won the Ryder Cup on European soil. But as well as marking a comeback for the US giant Tiger Woods, this Ryder Cup is also the last before Brexit day when the UK leaves the European Union.
” In the midst of Brexit negotiations- and a Brexit which is struggling to work out- the Ryder Cup is the chance to see Europeans together and united facing the US, that is a good image ,” said Jean-Baptiste Guegan, a Paris-based lecturer on geopolitics and sport.
” Today, sporting imagery matters for the public, and that is something that soft power is about. France is playing a lot on that. Seeing Europeans united under the same club flag is rare enough to stand out. At a few moments when populism and Brexit are making themselves heard, that’s important .”
Guegan said the Ryder Cup was also a chance for figures in diplomacy and business to mingle.” The Ryder Cup is more than athletic, it’s a barometer of the relationship between Europe and the US, a high-sponsorship event which allows you to see how the business world is faring .”
He added:” There will surely be an element of patriotism coming into play somewhere. For Donald Trump, this is one of the rare sports he plays. He’ll watch this event, he’ll make use of it .”
Trump’s interest in golf is paramount. He has expended 156 days at his golf properties since becoming chairperson, according to a count by NBC News, although it is not clear if he has actually played the sport on every occasion. Barack Obama played a total of 333times during his eight years as president.
Trump has also played with professionals such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who will be key players in the Ryder cup, and the US president has already begun tweeting about the tournament.