LPGA scraps its English policy

Facing growing criticism, the LPGA Tour has rescinded plans to suspend golfers who could not demonstrate proficiency in English.

The tour revealed last week it would require English as a way of boosting players’ abilities to interact with fans and sponsors but said Friday it would soften its stance after several groups voiced concerns that the policy was discriminatory.

“The LPGA has received valuable feedback from a variety of constituents regarding the recently announced penalties attached to our effective communications policy,” LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens said. “We have decided to rescind those penalty provisions.”

The announcement came just hours before a planned news conference by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which was expected to demand the LPGA overturn the policy. The center was one of several Asian-American advocacy groups and lawmakers that argued the policy unfairly targeted South Korean and other Asian golfers on tour. There are 121 international players on tour, 45 of which are from South Korea. Two golfers from South Korea, one from Taiwan and another from Mexico won this year’s majors on the LPGA Tour.

“While it is quite unfortunate that in the 21st century any organization would think such a policy is acceptable, I am pleased that the LPGA heard the millions of American voices who opposed this unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory mandate,” said California state Sen. Leland Yee, San Francisco Democrat. “While these types of incidents unfortunately still seep into our society, it is refreshing to see the overwhelming number of people who will fight for equality, fairness and justice.”

Yee, a native of China, had explored whether the policy would violate any state laws. He led a protest that included more than 50 civil rights organizations.

The LPGA was motivated to craft the English policy after some sponsors complained they could not converse with players during pro-ams and other events during tournaments. But State Farm, which sponsors a tournament in Springfield, Ill., said this week it wasn’t consulted in the plan and didn’t agree with it.

“It’s something we are dumfounded by,” a State Farm spokesman told Advertising Age. “We don’t understand this and don’t know why they have done it, and we have strongly encouraged them to take another look at this.”

The tour didn’t, however, back off its desire to see its players speak English. Bivens said the tour would continue offering English support through a special program that includes tutors, translators and software programs.

“After hearing the concerns, we believe there are other ways to achieve our shared objective of supporting and enhancing the business opportunities for every tour player,” Bivens said. “In that spirit, we will continue communicating with our diverse tour players to develop a better alternative. The LPGA will announce a revised approach, absent playing penalties, by the end of 2008.”

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