sport

Roberson turns heat on R&A

Sports minister Hugh Robertson says all-male clubs should not be allowed to stage the Open Championship in future.

Robertson heaped more pressure on the Royal and Ancient Club to change its centuries-old position on not allowing female members on Sunday with comments in a newspaper.

Such clubs' right to host the Open has been called into question in recent days with outgoing British Olympic Association chairman Lord Moynihan urging the St Andrews-based R&A to join Augusta National - venue for the Masters each April - in finally dropping its own men-only membership stance.

Augusta announced three months ago that former American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore had accepted invitations to join.

Now Robertson has added his weight to the debate, telling the Sunday Times: "It is increasingly anachronistic not to allow women to be members.

"The defence of the Royal and Ancient is that it is a private club and so has the right to do what it wants.

"That is legally correct and I have no quarrel when it is acting as a private club. However, I believe that when a private club fulfils a public function, such as staging a major event, then there is a different slant."

Asked whether clubs such as Muirfield, which next July stages the championship for the 16th time, should be awarded it in future he added: "In all honesty, no.

"I think this issue should be addressed. Let's get on with providing equality of opportunity across all sports."

Alastair Brown, secretary of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, said: "It's not our decision where the Open is. It's the decision of the R&A - it's their competition and they ask us.

"Augusta is a totally different situation. They own their event.

"We are fully compliant with the Equality Act and women have played here since 1891. I've given this reply several times and that is our stance."

The R&A did not issue a statement in response to Robertson's comments, but following the Augusta decision said: "The rules of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews specify a male membership and this policy remains a matter for our members to determine."

Prior to last year's Open at Royal St George's in Kent - another men-only club - R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said its membership position was "not something I'm overly concerned about".

"We don't use the Open for social engineering, if you'd like to call it that. We have never been particularly concerned about a club's policy," he said.

"I do think that these things are a matter for the members.

"There are still some single-sex clubs, whether men-only or women-only, up and down the country.

"It's perfectly legal for them to do this, even under the new Equality Act."

Moynihan told BBC Radio 5live before handing on the chairmanship of the BOA to London Olympic supremo Lord Coe: "To me, the Royal and Ancient should change.

"It is remarkable that Augusta has changed, but the Royal and Ancient is still there having not entitled and allowed complete equality of opportunity for women in this country.

"It should be an embedded characteristic of 21st century sport, especially when you see the contribution the athletes make.

"Let's get real and let's get on with the job of providing equality of opportunity across sports, sports administration as well as sporting opportunity."

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in September: "If the golf club in Augusta can admit women, then shouldn't St Andrews? If they can do it in South Carolina, can we not do it in Scotland?

"I think we have to think hard and long about issues of discrimination in our own country," he said.

And Scottish sports minister Shona Robison stated: "The direction of travel now is clearly to admit both men and women members and hopefully we will see an end to not allowing women to become members."