Jason Day is the number one golfer in the world and up until today he was wavering on whether or not to compete in the Rio Olympics. Well, Day has made his decision and he will join a slew of other golfers that includes world number four golfer, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, Vijay Singh, Graeme McDowell, Branden Grace, and Shane Lowry, who also pulled out today.
"“It is with deep regret that I announce that I will not be competing in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games this coming August in Rio de Janeiro. The reason for my decision is my concerns about the possible transmission of the Zika virus and the potential risks that it may present to my wife’s future pregnancies and to future members of our family,” Day said in a statement. “I have always placed my family in front of everything else in my life. Medical experts have confirmed that while perhaps slight, a decision to compete in Rio absolutely comes with health risks to me and my family. My wife Ellie and I have been blessed with two wonderful and healthy children and our plan is to have more. While it has always been a major goal to compete in the Olympics on behalf of my country, playing golf cannot take precedent over the safety of our family. I will not place them at risk. I have informed Coach Ian Baker Finch and Stephen Pitt the CEO of Golf Australia of my difficult decision. I hope all golf and Olympics fans respect and understand my position. In closing, I would like to thank all of those who have supported me throughout my career and extend my best wishes to all participants. Especially the entire Australian Olympic Team as they pursue their dreams in Rio de Janeiro.” "
This isn’t much of a surprise considering Day just welcomed his second child into the world in November of 2015 and says he and wife Ellie plan on having more kids and he shouldn’t be bashed for his decision, yet IOC member Barry Maister claims that if golf can’t produce its top athletes, “in my view, [it] should not be there.”
"“I think it is appalling,” Maister, winner of an Olympic gold medal in hockey [a cold weather indoor winter sport] at Montreal 1976, told New Zealand radio station Newstalk ZB. “I don’t like it and I don’t think the sport should be allowed to continue in the Games under that scenario. “Once they’ve got in, they have got to deliver. “Just getting in with your name, and then putting up some second or third rate players, is so far from the Olympic ideal or the expectation of the Olympic Movement. “The Olympics is about the best, and they pledged the best. “Quite frankly, any sport that cannot deliver its best athletes, in my view, should not be there.”"
Where Maister misses the point is that golfers will be walking around on a course surrounded by water that contains sewage and where mosquitoes are thriving for hours, putting them more at risk than other athletes who will be either indoors away from the elements or not surrounded by water.
Alan Shipnuck of SI took a different approach than Maister and cited “entitlement” as the main reason during a roundtable:
"The entitlement and point-missing among the top (male) golfers is depressing. They are on their way to getting their dying, boutique sport tossed from the biggest athletic happening in the world. Then they won’t have to worry about playing in the Olympics beyond 2020. A small win for these selfish players but a big loss for the sport to make new fans and reach new markets."
I believe Shipnuck is off base with his comments. Sure it would be great to compete and represent your country, and it would help grow a game that desperately needs a spark, but each golfer that has withdrawn has expressed as much regret over their decision in their statements and as of right now there’s no reason to believe that they aren’t fully on board to compete in 2020 in Japan where there is no risk of spreading a virus like Zika.
Gary Van Sickel of SI was a little more direct and on point with his observation during the roundtable:
"Instead of growing golf, the Olympics has a chance to grow the Zika virus globally and golfers are among the most at-risk. So some IOC turd is sniffling because some golfers are missing? The Olympics is strictly a for-profit, made-for-TV venture and this guy is annoyed because no Jason Day means the Aussie ratings might be done and the IOC may make a hundred grand less. Too bad, pal. I bet that guy isn’t going to spend eight hours a day walking the golf course swatting away mosquitoes. He doesn’t have the guts."
Every week golfers play for millions of dollars and without any incentive other than pride and a medal, why risk injury or possibly contracting the Zika virus in a sport that relies solely on one person’s capabilities. Sure it’s clear that golfers believe major championship wins are more important than an Olympic medal, they said as much in an anonymous Sports Illustrated poll, and the schedule is extremely congested with the Open Championship, PGA Championship, Olympics, FedExCup, and Ryder Cup, but there are also tournaments that golfers compete in and are passionate about that don’t involve prize money, namely the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
So far, no Americans have withdrawn their names from consideration, but Rickie Fowler has expressed concerns over the virus as well. Jordan Spieth, who is on board for now and Dustin Johnson, who may or may not have concerns, appear committed for the moment, but only Bubba Watson has fully committed to the games.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the women and LPGA golfers, none of whom have pulled out. That’s not to say they don’t have concerns and won’t pull out of the games as they near, but it’s a far cry from what we have seen from the men’s side.
The big issue here is how this will impact the future of golf in the Olympics. With two of the biggest names in the sport skipping the first year that golf has been in the Olympics since 1904, it doesn’t set a good precedent. With the future of golf in the Olympics to be voted on before the 2020 games in Japan, it’s easy to see that without the top names willing to play in another tournament and represent their respective countries in front of the world in the eyes of the IOC, how golf could easily be pulled from the games.
Of course in four years, the IOC may regret their decision to pull the game from the Olympics and more so they may regret not moving the Olympics from Rio, so bashing the golfers for making a conscious well thought-out decision seems pointless.