Hindustan Times, New Delhi
For Indian professionals keen to make a name in international golf after graduating from the Professional Golf of India (PGTI), the Asian Tour is the first stepping stone to bigger challenges. With at least 15 players with full playing rights and many more from the PGTI getting into Asian Tour events on country spots, the suspension of the Tour due to the pandemic has hit Indian pros hard. In an interview, Asian Tour commissioner and CEO Cho Minn Thant, who is based in Singapore, spoke on the challenges following lockdown and the road ahead.
In the aftermath of several events cancelled or postponed, what are the plans of restarting the Tour?
There are complications when it comes to a Tour like ours resuming play. It is much easier for Tours which operate predominantly out of one country to restart sooner. Even with a number of international players, they can enter a country and plan for a quarantine period and remain there to play the rest of the season. For us, it is much more difficult because we travel to a different country every week and our players come from approximately 15 different points of origin. We need to observe the stages in which countries return to so-called normalcy. The first would be the lifting of lockdowns and movement restrictions, second would be the resumption of business, and third would be the resumption of international travel. Last but not least, the lifting of quarantine requirements for incoming travellers. This could take some time and an optimistic estimate would be somewhere in late third quarter or early fourth quarter of this year.
We have our events lined up for the third quarter onwards. Our Tour will be extended to 2021 to ensure that our players have a good number of events to be considered a full season. This will see us ending our current campaign likely in the second quarter of 2021.
How does the Tour see the pandemic affecting player earnings and are steps afoot to soften the blow?
The Asian Tour is dependent on tournaments being staged. From a membership perspective, without any tournaments there is no opportunity for our players to earn pay cheques. The most important task right now is to balance the survival of the company against the welfare of our membership. It is tough to make a fair and equitable judgement call because our professional members are independent contractors and each individual is in a different situation. It has been our policy to channel some of our resources into tournaments but with this not being an option we are exploring ways to look after our players whether it is during this lay-off period or making up for it when we resume. Since we are unable to stage events at present, extending our season is one way which will allow the players to make up for the lay-off.
Sponsorships will also undoubtedly be affected going forward due to the economic strain that will be felt in the months to come. The longer it goes on, the harder hits we will take.
The Asian Tour’s roadmap in the coming years?
Ironically, we were looking forward to a solid season in 2020 to build on for future seasons. To borrow a cricket phrase, we have been bowled a yorker that has taken out the middle stump. One thing that has come forth during this crisis is the solidarity and collaborative efforts of all the Tours around the world. This positive interaction leads me to believe that we can do more with the other Tours around the world to provide our players, stakeholders and fans with a stronger Tour in the years to come. The shift in the season can also be taken as a positive where the January to December calendar season was not always the most practical. Switching to a wraparound season starting and ending midway through the year may be more logical going forward for numerous reasons.
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