Maureen McGonigle, the founder of Scottish Women in Sport, reckons organisers of a golf tournament have “taken us back to the days when women were viewed as accessories and decoration”.
McGonigle was referring to an exemption spot for the LPGA Shoprite Classic being decided by a popularity poll on Twitter after four players, including Carly Booth, were hand-picked for the social media stunt.
A week-long poll, which has attracted more than 17,000 votes in just two days, will determine whether Booth, American Blair O’Neal, Indian Sharmila Nicollet or Bolivia -born Susana Benavides secures the spot in the $1.5 million event in New Jersey in June.
McGonigle believes skill should be the main factor when it comes to such exemptions and fears that picking out players for either looks or the size of their social media following is sending out a wrong message to young sportswomen.
“There is a slight mix of emotions here as I normally think that anything that can raise the profile of women in sport is good,” McGonigle told The Scotsman. “However, we have to be very clear of the bigger picture and I am not sure this project does that.
“When playing sport at an elite level you want to be selected for your skill, not for how you look. Also, this message will be going out to many young women and girls and basically it says it is important how you look, and how many Twitter followers you have.
“This cannot be a positive step for the sport which has been working hard to bring parity into all areas in golf and need to encourage more women and girls into the sport. Lack of a positive body image is one of the areas that impact on women and girls, not just in sport but in life in general and deciding on who should participate in a major tournament based on looks sends out the wrong message and it also must impact on all the other female golfers who haven’t been chosen and who work hard to improve their skills on a daily basis.”
The event’s organisers teamed up with a sports social media tracking firm, which was co-founded by two-time major winner Jordan Spieth’s dad, in coming up with the ground-breaking concept for a potential career-changing opportunity in an event that saw Swede Anna Nordqvist pick up $225,000 as she made a successful defence of the title last year.
The four players were identified as the most popular in social media circles not already qualified for the event. Booth, a two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, has more than 62,000 followers on Instagram while more than 35,000 people track her movements Twitter.
O’Neal, a Golf Channel host who won the network’s reality show competition Big Break, has 186,000 Instagram followers, while Benavides has more than 350,000 followers on Twitter, second only among LPGA players to Paula Creamer in that respect.
“I would suggest they embrace a transparent policy on selecting participants based on their skill level and work with them to increase their Twitter following,” added McGonigle, left. “This would be a much more positive message to promote. In some ways, it takes us back to the days when women were viewed as accessories and decoration.”
Since the poll was launched on Monday night, Booth has been using social media to rally support.
“Please don’t forget to vote for me, every vote counts for a spot into @ShopRiteLPGA,” the 24-year-old wrote in a message accompanying a video of her visiting the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata yesterday during a promotional trip this week to India.