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Will the LPGA English-only rule backfire? Isn't it racist at some level, and don't Fortune 500 companies shy away from these kinds of anti-diversity policies?
Thank you for your e-mail. Last month, the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) announced that tournament players would have to be "effective" in English. There have been no written guidelines announced, no definition of "effective," and there is nothing about this subject on the LPGA web site.
LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens was hired in 2005 and is the first woman to have that role in the LPGA's 58-year history. Prior to being LPGA commissioner, Bivens was a senior executive at one of the world's largest advertising-agency conglomerates.
One of Bivens' primary responsibilities is developing revenue--mostly from tournament sponsorships and ad revenue generated by television and web viewership.
Most of the LPGA's media audience--and certainly the most wealthy audience and the one that advertisers will pay the most to reach--is American. For the 2008 season, 70 percent of LPGA tournaments are scheduled in the United States (25 out of 36). However, non-Americans won 77 percent of the 26 tournaments held so far this year, and 27 percent of the tournaments were won by Asian players.
This year, the country with the largest representation of winners is Korea, with four winning players. The United States only has three. Some of this year's non-American players, including Yani Tseng of Taiwan and InBee Park of South Korea, are already proficient in English--but other non-American players are not.
Asian players, particularly Korean players, are a growing trend. According to Tees2Green.com, "Se Ri Pak was the only South Korean on the LPGA Tour in 1998, when she inspired a nation with her victory in the U.S. Women's Open. Now, there are 45 players from South Korea on tour--two of them won majors this year--and 121 international players representing 26 countries."
Although nobody at the LPGA has commented on this, I think you can make the case that it's tough to get sponsorship money if the winner of the tournament that your company sponsors can't say much more than a couple of words in English.
"This is an American tour," said Kate Peters, executive director of the LPGA State Farm Classic. "It is important for sponsors to be able to interact with players and have a positive experience."
"American" is an interesting way to describe it. Is it really American if the tour is international and most of the winners aren't American citizens? I'd assume that the LPGA feels that their mostly white-American audience can't really bond with non-English-speaking winners, and in turn, sponsors and advertisers will shy away.
Regardless, this wasn't the way to resolve the situation. I think you can absolutely make the case that this "effective" English policy is racist--it clearly targets Korean players.
The only comment from the LPGA I could find was: "We have been puzzled, if not surprised, by some of the reactions," said deputy commissioner Libba Galloway, who previously was the LPGA's top attorney. "We see this as a pro-international move."
"Puzzled?" "Surprised?" Not anticipating this kind of reaction indicates a very sheltered management team. Even if Commissioner Bivens was surprised, sending a subordinate in to take the heat isn't a confidence-inspiring move.
So, yes, I think this is going to backfire badly on the LPGA. There is no sign that the organizational knowledge to navigate this difficult and complex situation is in place. There is nothing about this situation on the LPGA's web site nor is anything about diversity on the LPGA web site