07/05/2016

Another week, another golfer withdraws from the upcoming Summer Olympics. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, one of the best young players in the world, pulled out of Rio on Monday citing the Zika virus.

That puts him in the same category as Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Shane Lowry, Adam Scott and Graeme McDowell. Good company if the topic is golf, bad if you’re associated with the Summer Games.

********

Golf.com has started to file all of the golfers who have either committed to, or removed themselves from Olympic consideration. You should check out the list. The maybe’s are more impressive than the yes’s. And given the recent decisions made by McIlroy, Day and Matsuyama, it shouldn’t surprise us if come August, Jordan Spieth and co. aren’t in South America.

It’s the damn Zika thing.

Read through Golf.com’s pulled quotes and you’ll find most players who are avoiding Rio are doing so for either “family reasons” or explicit concerns about the Zika virus.

Zika is still a bit of a mystery, but researchers have linked the disease to birth defects in children, most notably microcephaly, a condition defined by an underdeveloped brain/head in a newborn baby according to the Center for Disease Control.

Because of this, doctors have discouraged pregnant women or families that are planning to have children (the disease can be transmitted sexually) from traveling to places that have reported instances of Zika.

So, in a sense, golfers are right to approach these Olympics in particular with the utmost caution.

Consider this: it is tremendously difficult for professional athletes to create family lives as we know them. Travel demands, free agency, injuries, roster-changes and trades all put stress on the athlete. At least those involved in team sports have home stands and all-star breaks to maintain a semblance of home life. In golf, that’s almost impossible. PGA Tour professionals are somewhere new every week from January to October. The idea of a family is already a big commitment and one that derails their professional schedule (most make the sacrifice). Now a legitimately threatening disease is brought into the picture?

It’s just not worth it for someone like Lowry, recently married, to even consider the risk.

But, hey, this isn’t about zika so much as it’s about an ill-conceived event. Let’s start there. Poor format? You got it. Controversial golf course? Yep, that too. Poor timing? Golfers will play the US Open, British Open, PGA Championship and Olympic Tournament in a two-month span with the FedEx Cup Playoffs and Ryder Cup to follow for many. Of those events, which pays the least and carries the least cache?

 

“Now a legitimately threatening disease is brought into the picture?”

 

Besides, according to an article on Vox, the threat of Zika is overstated. The disease is spread by mosquitoes, which thrive in Brazil’s tropical climate. Yet, Rio is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means these summer games will actually take place in the heart of the Brazilian winter. Cooler, dryer air means less mosquitoes. Furthermore, Rio is far away from the center of the epidemic. From the Vox article:

Rio also happens to be far from the epicenter of the Zika outbreak in northeastern Brazil (where more than 90 percent of confirmed Zika cases originated). And people who travel to Brazil for the Olympics are likely to spend most of their time in Olympic venues in Rio that have already been heavily treated with insecticide to control mosquito breeding.

This also isn’t a new thing. Fears over Zika have been discussed over the last two years, not just the last two months. Golfers knew about it long ago. Why didn’t they decommit then?

It’s hard to say. The likely answer is that the golf schedule is already stressful enough and now they have an easy out to avoid a trip to Brazil. Zika has become the go-to excuse, and you’ll hear more athletes turn to it.

The sad part is, the list of reasons not to support Olympics is extensive, from corruption both in the Brazilian government and the International Olympic Committee to sanitation concerns that continue to threaten the safety of the athletes.

It’d be refreshing to hear someone take a stance on that.