Rory out of Rio 2016, who next?

You may be wondering why golf is in the Olympics at all. And if you didn’t think that before, you’re probably certainly asking now.  Rory Mcilroy, one of the game’s most recognised stars, has decided to withdraw from competing at Rio 2016.

“After speaking to those closest to me, I’ve come to realise that my health and my family’s health comes before anything else. Even though the risk of infection from the Zika virus is low, it is a risk nonetheless and a risk I am unwilling to take”

Many of the golf’s biggest ambassadors like Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam and Peter Dawson, the former chief executive of the R & A, worked hard for golf’s inclusion as an Olympic sport. The reason for wanting golf included was as a vital component in the growth of the game. In Great Britain and the USA, golf is an established sport. But there are so many countries, from Germany to India, from China to Brazil where the game is just a footnote against other rival sports. The Olympics was and is a huge deal for the game of golf and I do wonder how many people realise that.

Back to Rory though and a withdrawal list that also includes major champions Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen and bound to get bigger as the deadline for the final places on July 11th approaches nearer. It’s disappointing for a number of reasons but who are we to tell someone they have to go. Rory is engaged to be married. The chances of catching the Zika virus may be slim but they are certainly larger for a golfer than the majority of athletes. Zika, if you don’t know, is a virus spread by mosquitos that has been linked to brain defects in new born babies. Players have been kept up to date with the dangers from the IOC, their national associations with advice from the World Health Organisation. But long distance runners and golfers will be as exposed to the Rio air as anyone at the Games.

Of course, the more cynical will claim it’s just a convenient excuse. The format for golf in the Olympics was hardly imaginative. Just another 72 hole golf tournament, right after a number of  other 4 round golf events, like the Open and the USPGA Championships, which we know holds greater significance for the world’s top male players.  But ask yourself this – would you be 100% happy if it was your partner, your son or daughter, your brother or sister going?

It’s interesting that right now, not one female player has withdrawn as of yet, although Stacy Lewis has admitted she is concerned. Women’s golf is in a good place right now. Young stars like Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson among others battling it out for the majors. What a great platform Rio is to expose their talents. And for once in the game of golf, there is an equal playing field. Same course (if different tees) and same prize – gold, silver or bronze. I wonder if Rory’s decision will impact on the women teeing it up in Rio.

Golf returns to the Olympics in August. It could turn out to be a bit of a non-event. Let’s just hope by the time we’re ready for Tokyo in 2020, where the crowds for golf will be huge, that the IOC still want it, there are no health concerns and the world’s best see it as important part of their schedule.



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