National / Social Issues

Japan Golf Council urges new Olympic venue over female membership ban

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

The Japan Golf Council on Tuesday urged Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizers to move the event’s golf competition away from Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama Prefecture, even if the venue changes its rules to allow women to become full members.

“We are hoping for a change of venue to somewhere where the players and spectators will not suffer,” said JGC Chairwoman Eiko Oya, who leads a nonprofit organization founded last year to try to modernize the sport in Japan.

“This issue of women members came later. We wouldn’t say no if Kasumigaseki did change its membership policy, but the main objective is to find a comfortable venue for the competition.”

Kasumigaseki, a private club founded in 1929, came under fire from Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike earlier this month over its membership rules, which forbid women from becoming full members or playing on Sundays.

The International Olympic Committee has reportedly expressed concern over the rules and contacted the International Golf Federation — which was not aware of the club’s policy — to try to persuade the club to undergo reform.

Kasumigaseki General Manager Hiroshi Imaizumi appeared receptive to the request when he said last week: “I think we should keep up with the times.”

But the JGC argued Tuesday that Kasumigaseki’s 44-km distance from the Olympic Village makes it an unsuitable choice regardless of its membership policy, and urged organizers to switch the competition to Wakasu Golf Links, a public course near Tokyo Bay.

“If we consider the fact that pro golfers wouldn’t be staying in business hotels around Kasumigaseki and staying instead in Tokyo, we need to consider how they would travel back and forth to the venue,” said JGC Vice Chairman Yutaka Morohoshi.

“There has been talk that the expressway would have reserved Olympic lanes set aside for this transport, and that would involve a ridiculous amount of funds.”

Wakasu, which was built on the site of a former rubbish dump and at one time banned players from smoking because of the danger posed by methane emissions, was proposed as a venue when Tokyo was bidding to host the games. The organizing committee instead chose Kasumigaseki at the recommendation of the Japan Golf Association, many of whom are Kasumigaseki members.

“Kasumigaseki is an excellent course, but is this really in the best interests of Japanese golf?” said Morohoshi. “I think it is the Kasumigaseki members who would reap the benefits of holding it there.”

The JGC also believes that Wakasu would better fulfill the IOC’s commitment to leave a positive legacy from the games.

“After the Olympics have finished, anyone would be able to play at Wakasu if they wanted,” said Oya. “But at Kasumigaseki, even if someone wanted to experience playing on an Olympic course, it wouldn’t be possible without an introduction from a member.”

The row over the golf venue is the latest controversy to hit Tokyo 2020 organizers after they resolved a dispute over volleyball, swimming and sailing venues in December.

The organizing committee has said it will monitor Kasumigaseki’s actions over the sexism complaints and hinted that public opposition to the club’s policy could sway its decision.

“The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee is committed to delivering the games under the spirit of the Olympic Movement, working closely with the international and national federations,” the organizing committee said in a statement. “It will continue studying the club owner’s policy on the membership eligibility and responses to the public discussion.”

Kasumigaseki Golf Club has hosted more top-level tournaments than any other golf course in Japan. It hosted the Japan’s Women’s Open in 1999.

Last year, the historic Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland forfeited its right to hold the British Open after members voted against allowing female members. A second vote is set to take place before the end of March.

Golf returned to the Olympics at last year’s Rio Games after an absence of 102 years.

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