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  • Alistair Tait

The real truth about those Olympic no shows?

You sometimes have to wonder about the priorities of some our top players. Well, some of our top male players.

Understandably, there’s a rush to get back into competitive action after the enforced coronavirus break. Too bad some of the world’s top men weren’t in a rush to get into action four years ago when golf was readmitted to the world’s biggest sports gathering.

As friend and former Golfweek colleague Dave Seanor points out on Morning Read, the desire of some of our top players to tee it up next week in the Charles Schwab Challenge on the PGA Tour contrasts sharply with the pathetic indifference many showed to golf in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Remember four years ago? Around twenty top men decided they didn’t want to risk traveling to Brazil for fear of catching the Zika virus, a mosquito borne infection? One by one top players like Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth cited health concerns for not helping celebrate golf’s return to the Olympic family for the first time since 1904.

The contrast to the top women was stark. The world’s top female golfers put the men to shame with their enthusiastic support of the Games.

As Seanor points out

“Something does not compute. In 2016, the world’s top four-ranked golfers at the time – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth – declined to participate in the Rio Olympics because of concerns about the Zika virus, which killed one person in the U.S. that year.
“All four are scheduled to compete next week at the PGA Tour’s Charles Schwab Challenge, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 106,000 Americans in six months. That’s puzzling behaviour, especially in recalling these statements they made when withdrawing from the Rio Games, in which golf returned to the Olympics after a 112-year absence.”

McIlroy, Day, Johnson and Spieth all cited health concerns for refusing to travel to Brazil. Yet they’re travelling Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas next week. Seanor asks:

“What changed? Is the health of their families no longer a priority?
“More than 1.8 million cases of coronavirus have been reported in the U.S., and more than 106,000 have died. In the Texas counties of Dallas and Tarrant (Fort Worth), more than 16,600 cases have been reported, causing at least 412 deaths.
“By comparison, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were fewer than 2,400 confirmed and probable cases of Zika virus in the U.S. in 2016, causing one death.”
“Brazil was hard hit by Zika in 2015 and early 2016, although the outbreak largely had subsided by the time the Summer Olympics got underway.”

At the time, the Olympic withdrawals seemed inspired by either total paranoia or a good excuse to skip the Games because the above players just didn’t see an Olympic gold medal as a priority. To be fair, McIlroy has since changed his mind on golf in the Games.

It wasn’t just players who were paranoid. Some scribes were, too. Several refused to go anywhere else but the sporting venues. One recently admitted to me that he’d wished he’d seen more of Rio and Brazil rather than spending the two weeks of the men’s and women’s tournaments holed up in his hotel room when he wasn’t at the golf course.

For the record, in two weeks covering the Games I saw one mosquito. It was in the shower in my air b&b accommodation. I defeated it 7&6 with a can of mosquito spray. I didn’t get bitten once, even though I dined al fresco nearly every night. Amazing the power of mosquito repellent.

You can’t protect yourself from coronavirus with a can of repellent. (Oh, that we could.) Yet McIlroy and co are willing to put their families under even greater risk by playing on the PGA Tour next week. Seanor asks:

“Was their expressed concern about Zika, as widely suspected, just a convenient smokescreen to hide their lack of enthusiasm for the Olympics?”

I’ll go for the convenient smokescreen.


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