• Saturday, June 22, 2024
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Zika virus or low prize money? Why golfers are pulling out of Rio Olympics


With just two weeks left to the start of the summer Olympics in Brazil, highly ranked golfers are pulling out of the biggest sports carnival in the world reason being the fear of contacting the Zika virus that is ravaging Brazil.

American professional golfer, Jordan Spieth who recently dropped out make it the seventh top golfer to pull out of Rio 2016 Olympics and the list could grow as the days for the event draws nearer.

Spieth, who initially seemed enthusiastic about competing in Rio said Zika was just one concern he had about Rio Olympics, but it is obvious that the virus could be the reason he opted out of the event.

Spieth, No. 3 in the world rankings, joined No. 1 Jason Day, No. 2 Dustin Johnson and No. 4 Rory McIlroy in skipping the Games over fears of the Zika virus, though Spieth intimated that he had other worries.

Out of 60 male golfers invited to compete in the Olympics, 21 players including the top golfers in the world Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have officially dropped out of the event.

“It’s certainly disappointing that we have had so many withdrawals on the men’s side and wonderful that all of the women have been very supportive,” International Golf Federation President Peter Dawson said.

“There is no doubt that the number of withdrawals has not shed golf in the best light, and we have to accept that.”

This is only the second time that golf has been played at the summer Olympics since the 1904 games in St. Louis, Missouri. The decision came after leaders from the International Golf Federation helped persuade the 121st International Olympic Committee to vote to include golf for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics.

But for golfers, winning an Olympic gold medal does not attract the same significance or prize amount as winning the PGA Championship or taking home a Masters title and donning the iconic green jacket. And during the late summer and early fall this year, a number of notable tournaments will coincide with taking a trip to Brazil.

Attending the Olympics would mean competing less than two weeks after the PGA Championship, missing the John Deere Classic in Illinois with a $4.8 million pot, quickly flying back to North Carolina to make it for the Wyndham Championship on August 15-21 for $5.4 million at stake and then preparing for the prestigious and patriotic Ryder Cup in late September, where players from Europe and the U.S. compete much like the Olympics for their home teams. And this doesn’t even include the four tournaments players must compete in between August 25 to September 25 for the FedEx Cup, which boasts a prize fund of $35 million.

But aside from the monetary benefits and prestige of these other tournaments, several golfers have pointed to concerns about the Zika virus’ effect on their ability to have children as main reasons for not heading to Rio much to the criticism of other competing Olympic athletes.

“When you see the Olympics as the pinnacle of any sport, all athletes are in,” Australian swimmer Cate Campbell said.

“It would take a lot more than Zika to stop me from going to Rio.”

The lead author of a study that found the link between the Zika virus and serious birth defects, Karin Nielsen of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said that players actually have much worse viruses transmitted by mosquitoes to fear than Zika.

“What is interesting is there has always been dengue in Brazil and people have never stopped going to sporting events because of that,” said Nielsen.

“Truthfully, dengue is a far worse disease to acquire. So is chikungunya virus as opposed to Zika for non-pregnant individuals.”

Given that it’s currently winter in Rio de Janeiro, Nielsen said that cases of Zika have dramatically dropped and that none have been reported since May.

“Personally, I think that the major question is whether Zika is a problem at all because really, it has stopped circulating in Rio de Janeiro and that’s what people are not aware of,” Nielsen said.

Though Nielsen acknowledged that golfers were likely at a higher risk of getting infected because the sport involves being outdoors for longer periods of time, she said it was an “overzealous” and “overcautious” choice not to attend the Olympics because of Zika fears.

In all, seven of the world’s top 15 golfers and 18 eligible players will be skipping the Olympics.

The women’s competition, however, will have each of the world’s top nine players, with No. 10 Ha-Na Jang missing out because there are four South Korean golfers ahead of her in the rankings.

With the game of golf guaranteed to be at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the game’s leaders will now have to come up with some way to put a positive spin on the sport’s further inclusion. If Zika is a perfect excuse for golfers who do not want to take time out of their lucrative pro schedules to play in a low-prize-money tournament, what will the excuse be four years from now, when Zika is unlikely to be a concern?

Perhaps increasing the prize money for golfers at the Olympics, or giving golfers some sort of added incentive besides representing their country might lure their appetites for the Olympics.

But if necessary amendments are not done before the next Olympics, Tokyo 2020, the sport return to the Olympics looks to be short lived and that might signal a backdrop for the game of golf.


Anthony Nlebem