A three-day silence is the only tribute

Why golf must do the decent thing and call off the Ryder Cup as the impact on American sport is deeply felt

From the remote vantage point of Goose Bay, Newfoundland, where three long days were spent last week divorced from the whys and wherefores of staging the 34th Ryder Cup, a conviction grew ever stronger that there was no hope the match could be played at The Belfry next week. Being fortunate in arriving back from across the Atlantic yesterday did nothing to shake that view.

From the remote vantage point of Goose Bay, Newfoundland, where three long days were spent last week divorced from the whys and wherefores of staging the 34th Ryder Cup, a conviction grew ever stronger that there was no hope the match could be played at The Belfry next week. Being fortunate in arriving back from across the Atlantic yesterday did nothing to shake that view.

The American players have legitimate fears for their safety in travelling at this time, as shown by the withdrawal of Tiger Woods from this week's Lancôme Trophy in Paris. The argument that the "show must go on" is also often valid. But not always. Sport, a pleasant diversion in good times and sometimes an important one in the not-so-good times, is surely an irrelevance in the bad times.

There are many more factors and implications involved in a decision to cancel the Ryder Cup. But sometimes it is just about doing the right thing. At this moment, the American nation has more to deal with than being represented in a game of golf against their European allies.

America is a nation at war. It may not be entirely sure with whom, but the investigating and the planning is intensive. The reprisals, when they come, will be mighty.

America is a nation in mourning. The grieving for the dead of last Tuesday's terrorist attacks is only outstripped by the desperation with which so many search for news of those still unaccounted for. While the football stadiums and ball parks remain silent this weekend, the heroic efforts of the rescue workers, fire-fighters and medical staff still at the Pentagon and the former site of the World Trade Centre's twin towers deserve the applause and ovations.

At the Royal Air Force camp at the multinational military air base at Goose Bay, there were frequent bursts of acclamation from the appreciative passengers of American Airlines flight 87, diverted on its way from Heathrow to Chicago last Tuesday, grateful for the humane and decent way they had been treated by the flight's crew, the RAF officers and personnel, and their wives. Nothing was too much trouble. Food appeared in never-ending supply. Phones and an internet connection were provided for contact with home. Escorted trips to a local shop meant essentials still in the luggage hold of the plane could be replaced. Critically, there was always a friendly face to talk to.

And all the while, the horrors of New York and Washington were relayed in graphic detail courtesy of CNN. As society went crazy, it was a blessed deliverance to fall into the hands of a loving community. Few, if any, of the many other passengers stranded in north-eastern Canada were treated so well, confined as they were to a hall or, even, the plane they arrived on.

"All over the world, people want to try and help," said the chief spirits-raiser, Jan Dymond. "We have been privileged to be able to help a group of people in need." A collection, inspired by the efforts and kindness of the RAF wives, for the relief agencies at work in the States raised $1,500 from their 211 new friends. As each new departure time for Chicago came and went, the atmosphere remained stoically calm, an awesome display of patience.

The town of Happy Valley, Goose Bay, has a population of 9,000. The next nearest petrol station is 400 miles away. Through the long winter it is bitterly cold, but at this time of year the sunsets fire the skies crimson. There are 25 bars and "almost as many churches. Whatever works for you", as a local noted.

There are two sets of traffic lights. The introduction of the first set was helped by a series of instructions in the local newspaper, only they failed to mention the constant flashings caused by a power cut. Chaos ensued.

There is one golf course. Unlike Crans-sur-Sierre, it is not much good as a ski-run when under snow, since it is flat. But it allows the stars to play a few holes while their private jets are refuelled at the airport. Tom Hanks played through recently. For the locals, it also provides a few hours of precious relaxation, which is all the definition of the game of golf needs to state.

The Ryder Cup has become an intense, thrilling affair, anticipated eagerly, and many will be disappointed if the best golfers in the world do not meet in match-play team competition for another two years. The efforts of all those who have striven to make this year's match the best ever, including the captains, Sam Torrance of Europe and Curtis Strange of the US, must be acknowledged.

But if golf is to make an appropriate tribute at The Belfry to the victims of Tuesday's atrocities and their families, a simple gesture is required. Not a one-minute silence; nor a three-minute silence. The only dignified response is three days of silence.

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