Olympic No Shows Deserve Free Pass
It’s a sign of these toxic times that a minority of golf fans have criticised Charley Hull for her decision to withdraw from this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Hull doesn’t deserve criticism. Neither does Georgia Hall, who has passed on taking Hull’s place. No golfer deserves to be slated for deciding against Olympic participation this year, not in the mess the world is in right now because of Covid-19.
Hull broke the news on her Instagram feed. She wrote:
“I’ve been thinking long and hard over the past few months about this year’s Olympics and whether or not I’d be able to give my best performance given all the scheduling and travel challenges involved.
“Obviously it would be a huge privilege to represent my country but I have, very reluctantly, made the tough decision not to travel this year which has been very hard given all the amazing memories I have from my experience in Rio five years ago.
“I’ll be following Team GB closely in Tokyo and wish them all the best of luck.”
Cue a few numpties who accused Hull of letting her country down, of being more interested in money, conveniently forgetting she was in the GB team five years ago. Thankfully the numpties were in the minority: the majority supported her decision.
I do too, and Hall’s not to participate. Melissa Reid and Jodi Ewart Shadoff will represent Team GB in Tokyo.
Five years ago, I was extremely critical of the many top male golfers who passed on a place in Rio. Their excuses were pathetic. Still are. Players like Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and many others had a chance to help golf step out of its perceived insulated, conservative bubble and balked. The first time golf had a chance to shine in the Olympic arena in 112 years and they came up with lame excuses.
Scheduling was one reason, even though the men’s event took place with plenty of time between the Open Championship and FedEx Cup, and the competition dates had been in situ for a long time. Zika was cited, although many of the players who passed live in Florida, which is built on a swamp – presumably they only discovered mosquito spray after the Games. Crime was another excuse. I checked the Orlando Sentinel one day during the men’s competition, the local newspaper for many of players who skipped Rio. Guess what? There was a fair share of crime in Orlando the previous day. Who knew?
Mind you, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar weren’t complaining: it made it easier for them to win gold, silver and bronze medals.
In March, I was critical of Webb Simpson’s comments on this year’s Games when he said:
“Going halfway around the world for that time frame in that part of our season is really tough for me to swallow.”
To be fair, none of us knew then that Covid-19 would still be hanging over our world to the same extent as it was then.
Johnson and Simpson, as with Hull and Hall, deserve no criticism for skipping Tokyo. Not with the severe restrictions placed on athletes this year.
The beauty of the 2016 Games for players like Rose and company was the opportunity to attend other sports, to learn from other athletes. Not just athletes, journalists too. Padraig Harrington took in as many opportunities as possible to attend other events. He, teammate Seamus Power and Irish captain Paul McGinley sat in front of me at table tennis one night.
That opportunity has been severely curtailed due to the pandemic. Golfers will likely be confined to the golf course, their hotel and any chance to experience a wide range of sports will probably be restricted, not to mention gaining a deeper understanding of Japanese culture. Fun, huh?
Covering the 2016 Olympic Games is one of the highlights of my career, arguably my favourite experience in golf. I realised those two weeks in Rio just how tiny golf is in the grand scheme of world sport. However, I wouldn’t jump on a plane to Tokyo to cover this year’s games for love nor money. No way.
So let’s give Hull and other golfers who choose not to participate this year a free pass. No one should be forced to go anywhere against their will in the world as it is right now.
#JustSaying: “It’s a little surreal being here. I thought I’d never actually play in an Olympics. I’m really enjoying it.” Catriona Matthew in 2016