Players gather for tour talks


Golf: Just like any other bunch of people, professional golfers like to switch off from their day jobs around Christmas and instead switch on the fairy lights.

It will be interesting, therefore, to see how many European Tour players turn up at Wentworth today for an Extraordinary General Meeting called by the so-called "Gang of Four" - Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal.

The quartet, all of whom have played a major part in Europe's golfing boom and are millionaires because of it, have been asking for an independent audit of Tour accounts.

When they sought support at the Volvo Masters in Spain last month the vast majority of the 66-strong field - including the current top two Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke - were happy to sign up.

"Where is the money being spent?" is the basic question being asked and the meeting provides a platform for the players to air their feelings and for Tour bosses to defend themselves if necessary.

It was reported at the weekend that the Tour's executive director Ken Schofield had written to members to say that the Tour was prepared to appoint its own external auditors, but could not grant "uncontrolled access" because it would breach contract confidentiality clauses and harm its ability to negotiate the best terms.

Sergio Gomez, Olazabal's manager, has said that the independent audit is needed to examine the income and expenditure of what is now a multi-million pound business.

Tour prize money has grown from a mere £611,000 in 1975 to over £40million this season - and another £10million is on offer on the Seniors and Challenge Tours.

Gomez has questioned, for instance, why there was only a profit of less than £50,000 on £15million income from television deals.

Clarke's manager Andrew Chandler commented: "Lee Westwood's dad asks for Lee's books to be audited each year. It's partly to make sure I am not running off with the money, but I don't take that as a slight and nor should the Tour.

"If this streamlines the Tour then it's a good thing. The infrastructure has not moved with the size of business that there is now."

Meanwhile, golf's governing body are introducing a new policy relating to educational grants in a move which they hope will encourage players to delay turning professional.

From January 1st the Royal and Ancient Club will allow amateurs to accept a golf scholarship or bursary which allows the funding of tuition, room and board, course-related books and incidental fees to attend a school, college or university in Britain and Ireland.

It will create similar opportunities to those which already exist in the United States.

Equestrian Sport: The Irish Sports Council has finally restored funding to the Show Jumping Association of Ireland for this year and monies "in the region of £60,000" are to be forwarded to the SJAI for its 2000 allocation, writes Grania Willis.

The ISC had withheld its funding from the Association in both 1998 and this year, initially because of apparent deficits amounting to over £250,000 and then because of a leaked management report alleging "continuing and ongoing irregularities" at senior management level within the Association.

The Equestrian Federation of Ireland (EFI) had met with ISC chief executive John Treacy on several occasions in a bid to get money back on line for the SJAI, but at its November meeting, the ISC board voted unanimously not to restore funding.

That meeting came just days after the departure of the Association's chief executive officer, Paddy Desmond, only six months after his appointment.

Following the announcement of the November decision, representatives of both the EFI and SJAI met with John Treacy and, having received assurances from both bodies that show jumping had now put its house in order, Treacy gave a favourable report to the ISC board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.

"They gave us the answers we were looking for", John Treacy said yesterday. "We were satisfied and so funding has been restored."

SJAI national chairman Tony Hurley was understandably thrilled at the announcement that his beleaguered Association was back on the Government payroll. "I'm absolutely thrilled", he said yesterday. "It's very good news and just what we needed before Christmas."

Gaelic Games: The GAA in Tyrone is facing a refereeing crisis, with a rash of postponements during the past season due to unavailability of referees. And Referees Board secretary Michael Hughes warned that referees are being forced out of the game by scandalous abuse from players and supporters. The situation will only get worse unless urgent remedial action is taken, according to Hughes, himself a leading whistler. He insisted the issue is one which must be addressed by everyone involved in the GAA, and not just the new Referee's Administration Committee. And he laid down a challenge to clubs, not merely to provide referees, but to ensure that their members do not drive existing referees out of the game by continual abuse.

Motor Sport: Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher has promised even more after winning Ferrari's first drivers title in 21 years.

"I see no reason why Ferrari cannot continue winning," said Schumacher, who claimed nine of 17 races this year.

Schumacher finished with 108 points, Hakkinen had 89, David Coulthard 73 and Reubens Barrichello 62. Ferrari finished with 170 points, 18 ahead of McLaren.

"In truth, it was Michael's driving at crucial moments which was the key to the season," said Ferrari's technical director Ross Brawn.

Schumacher will be 32 when the 2001 season starts March 4th in Melbourne, Australia, and stands on the verge of being the most successful driver in F1 history.

With 44-career victories, he will need eight wins in 2001 to overtake Alain Prost's record of 51. With two more world titles he could tie Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five.