Monday, 20 July 2009

Age Discrimination

I spent rather a lot of yesterday watching the final round of the Open (golf, for those of you who care little for these things). If you watched it too perhaps you were struck at the commentary, as well as I hope, in the golf. I hope that you were taken with the drama of Tom Watson so nearly winning his 6th Open.

Time and again, commentators from the BBC referred to Tom Watson's age - stating "isn't it remarkable at his age..." and "...if he can win it at this age, it might be one of the greatest moments in sport...". Tom Watson is 59.

I found the constant references to his age to be not only an enormous distraction from the drama unfolding on the course, but to be a rather insulting suggestion that 59 was so over the top and past it that it was remarkable that he was still able to walk.

Now, I understand that it is unusual for a 59 year old to win a major - but I don't think it needs to be mentioned in every breath. Gold is unusual in that it is as much a test of nerve and concentration as it is of physical strength. Watson has tremendous experience in stressful situations and, as he admirably proved, was able to use that experience over the four days of the tournament. I'm sure that "at his advanced age" he was not able to hit the ball as far as his younger playing partners - but hitting it straight is probably a more useful skill as if the knowledge that he has hit hundreds of thousands of gall balls more than most.

Nor do I think it fair that, as he lost on the playoff, all the commentators - including Peter Allis who possibly does have difficulty walking now - blamed it on his age. Possibly - but equally possibly not. Golfers have bad days, bad tournaments and bad years.

Look at Woods. He missed the cut - but was that because of his age? Look at Harrington who had won the previous two Opens - he finished +12 for the tournament. Is he getting on?

Watson played well and deserved to both win the competition and to be playing at that level. Cink finally won the match - because he was able to play better in a stressful circumstance.

There is a point for business (as I assured my wife throughout play yesterday). If people are good at what they do, then it doesn't matter what age they are - or what ethnic background they come from, or what school they went to. Quality will prevail - and so businesses should seek out and develop quality in every one of their employees who shows aptitude in any field. To finish on another sports metaphor - play the man, not the ball.

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