Why the Masters is sheltered from the Georgia voting law storm

Why the Masters is sheltered from the Georgia voting law storm

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There’s a lot going on in Georgia, but Augusta remains a world of its own

Other than the pandemic, the most-discussed news story in North America right now is Georgia’s controversial new voting law. Its supporters, mostly aligned with the Republican Party, say it merely reinforces existing election-security measures. Opponents say the law, passed in the wake of Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, targets people of colour by making it harder for them to vote and easier for the Republican-controlled state legislature to influence elections.

The fight spilled into the sports world last week when Major League Baseball announced it was moving this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta (Denver was named the replacement host this week). MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called the move a way to “demonstrate our values as a sport.” But it was also a business decision. The top executives at Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines spoke out against the law, and much of Corporate America (read: potential sponsors) is at least signalling that it does not support the legislation. Part of MLB’s calculus surely was that it couldn’t risk the backlash from racial-justice advocates that might result from leaving the All-Star Game in Georgia — even if it meant upsetting some segment of its conservative-skewing American fanbase.

Then there’s the Masters. Golf’s most cherished tradition teed off this morning in Augusta, Ga., where the ceremonial first man on the tee could not have been more perfect for this particular moment. It was Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first Black man to play in the Masters.

To be clear, this was not Augusta National’s way of signalling its opposition to the Georgia voting law. It gave Elder the honour back in November, long before the law was even introduced. Club chairman Fred Ridley addressed the voting-law issue carefully during his pre-tournament press conference, saying “the right to vote is fundamental in our democratic society. No one should be disadvantaged in exercising that right, and it is critical that all citizens have confidence in the electoral process.”

Pretty middle-of-the-road stuff, but Ridley doesn’t have to fear the kind of backlash that baseball was desperate to avoid. Most people just accept that we’re not going to get any real progressive messaging from the very rich, very conservative (and overwhelmingly older and white) membership of Augusta. Especially after what happened in 2003.

Canadians might think of that as the year Mike Weir won the Masters. But it’s also the year a women’s-rights activist named Martha Burk challenged Augusta’s (at the time) all-male membership. As if plucked from central casting, then-club chairman Hootie Johnson responded with a defiant, old-timey proclamation that, while women might one day be invited to join Augusta, it would not happen “at the point of a bayonet.” To show he meant business, Johnson defanged Burk’s efforts to pressure sponsors by dropping the Masters’ three biggest “partners” (Citigroup, Coca-Cola, and IBM) and, with the co-operation of CBS and the USA Network, televising the entire tournament commercial-free.

That was pure catnip for many golf fans, and Burk’s protest fizzled. Johnson had demonstrated, with stunning cold-bloodedness, that his club had the resources and the will to resist change until it was good and ready. It took nine more years — and the threat of lawsuits — before Augusta admitted its first two female members: former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and banker Darla Moore. Both were invited quietly by Johnson’s successor, Billy Payne, six years into his tenure. But the message was loud and clear: Augusta has the luxury to change only when it wants to.

Former Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson staged the 2003 Masters without sponsors amid controversy over the club’s all-male membership. (Jeff Haynes/AFP via Getty Images)

Quickly…

Canada is in danger of missing the playoffs at the men’s curling world championship. Brendan Bottcher’s rink had two tough matchups yesterday and lost them both: to Russia and defending champion Sweden. Those defeats put Canada (7-4) into a tie with Norway for fifth place in the round robin at our publish time. Six teams advance to the playoffs, and Canada is just one game ahead of seventh-place Switzerland (6-5). Raising the stakes even more, only the six playoff teams clinch spots in the 2022 Olympic men’s tournament for their countries. Everyone else is relegated to a last-chance qualifier in December. So there’s tremendous pressure on Bottcher and his team to win their final two round-robin games. The big one is tonight at 9 p.m. ET vs. Norway, followed by an easier matchup Friday at 11 a.m. ET vs. Germany (4-7). Read more about Canada’s precarious situation in this story by CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux.

China warned the U.S. against boycotting the Beijing Olympics. Responding to a U.S. State Department spokesman’s suggestion that the U.S. hasn’t ruled out skipping the 2022 Winter Games to protest China’s alleged human-rights abuses, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson threatened a “robust Chinese response” to a potential boycott. He also argued “the politicization of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries” and that “the international community, including the U.S. Olympic Committee, will not accept it.” The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee indeed reiterated this week that it’s opposed to Olympic boycotts, and its Canadian counterparts have taken the same stance. Read more about the Chinese official’s comments here. If you missed yesterday’s newsletter, read our breakdown of the Beijing boycott debate here.

The Vancouver Canucks had no new positive COVID-19 test results today, but they have a long way to go. Twenty-five members of the team, including 21 players, have tested positive for a variant form of the illness, causing the postponement of five games so far. The plan right now is for Vancouver to return from a nearly three-week layoff on Monday at Edmonton, and the NHL still hopes the Canucks can complete their full 56-game season. But some medical experts question whether that will be possible. Read more about their doubts in this story by CBC Sports contributor Jim Morris.

And finally…

Leon Draisaitl scored a goal from here:

See exactly how the Oilers stars bent geometry by watching the highlight here.

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Published at Thu, 08 Apr 2021 20:51:24 +0000