For most athletes, the Olympics are the standout event of their career. Many spend their whole careers training and preparing for the biggest event in the sporting world, but for golfers, this isn’t the case.
Golf was a surprise inclusion in the Olympics for the first time since 1904, and many saw it as a chance to raise the profile of the sport. However, the outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil has seen a number of golfers pull out, and this is unacceptable.
21 male golfers have pulled out of the Olympics in Rio, seven of whom are among the top 15 ranked players in the world. To put that into perspective, one cyclist (Tejay van Garderen), two track and field participants (Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang) and no swimmers have pulled out of the games citing Zika as a reason.
The Zika virus is still an issue in Brazil, but rarely for adult men. Zika is a danger to younger, pregnant women, and four out of five men who contract the virus will see no symptoms. For those men who symptoms do occur, they are incredibly mild; mainly being fever, rash, or joint pain, and these will only last up to a week.
In short, there is no long term risk to men. There is one other possible reason for golfers to miss the Olympics though. There was a total of $10 million prize money on offer at the PGA Championship this year, with the winner taking home $1.6 million. Prize money at the Olympics doesn’t even come close to this amount.
No other sport at the Olympics offers this sort of prize money at others tournaments, and no sport has seen athletes pull out like golf has. It seems that for many of them, the Zika virus is a convenient excuse to skip the games in Rio.
This snub does raise a number of issues. Whoever wins golf gold cannot feel the same sense of achievement knowing that the top four players in the world haven’t competed. It also totally undermines the importance of the Olympic Games. To miss what is the biggest sporting event on the planet because of money is simply shameful.
The Olympics in Rio have faced a number of challenges away from Zika. With controversy surrounding Russian athletes and protests continuing in Brazil, it seems that the sooner the action starts, the better.