Saturday 22 October 2016

Katie should be grateful to golfers for keeping the Olympic spotlight on those who deserve it

Eamonn Sweeney

Published 03/07/2016 | 17:00

Shane Lowry
Shane Lowry

Get up the yard Shane Lowry. You West Brit. You traitor. You thundering disgrace. You, you, you Uncle Tom you. No wonder they used to call Offaly the King's County. You're worse than that Fine Gael TD who wants Ireland to rejoin the Commonwealth.

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And you Jason Day. I suppose you're ashamed to be Australian.

Nah, not as much fun as slagging off Rory McIlroy, is it? I'll leave the genuine personal attacks on Shane Lowry to the Irish Examiner. It feels a bit like spitting at the pope.

But now that we've established that pulling out of the Olympic golf tournament isn't the same thing as marching the roads behind an orange banner, the question of why male golfers feel themselves so particularly susceptible to the Zika virus remains.

The simple answer is that the trip isn't worth the hassle. Especially when the health risk remains.

For some of the world's top golfers the Olympic event in Rio is about as important as one of those old pro-celebrity tournaments with Jimmy Tarbuck and Ronnie Corbett that used to be on television on a Saturday afternoon back when we didn't have many channels to choose from.

They're right too. Top professional golfers already play one of the most competitive and gruelling circuits in the world. It has its traditional peaks in the four Majors and the World Golf Championship to make things even more interesting. And this year for quite a few of them there'll be a Ryder Cup to finish things off. An Olympic golf tournament is simply superfluous.

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When McIlroy became the first Irish golfer to pull out of the Games, it was mentioned that this was a blow to our medal chances. But when I'd been thinking about possible Irish medals I hadn't once factored golf into the equation. It didn't seem like a real Olympic event somehow.

An Olympic gold should be the pinnacle of a career, something that makes you the number one in your sport.

The sports in the games all have their world championships but the Olympics tops those in terms of prestige.

Think of the national reaction to Katie Taylor's victory in London compared to that when she'd been racking up the world titles beforehand. Athletics has perhaps the most prestigious world championships of all but an Olympic gold still tops all even there.

It's not going to be like that in golf. 2016 will be all about Major winners. So why bother having the competition at all? Tennis has been in the Games since 1988 yet the Olympic title has nothing like the same prestige as a Grand Slam event. It still feels a bit like a glorified demonstration sport.

For that matter I'm not too sure about soccer's place in the games. And if you disagree with that, name the last three winners and the teams they beat in the finals. See? You can remember the last three World Cup finals alright though.

One of the great joys of the Olympics is the emergence of stars in sports whose excellence normally goes unseen by the general public. Nadia Comaneci, Steve Redgrave, Greg Louganis, Chris Hoy. Even the great swimmers, Dawn Fraser, Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps, would have largely passed under the radar if it hadn't been for the Olympics.

Presenting us with sportsmen we already know playing in an event which doesn't mean a lot to them seems to flout what's left of the Olympic spirit.

The Olympic golf tournament will be a kind of O'Byrne Cup of the sport, its winner quickly forgotten as players get back to the stuff that really matters.

What's even worse is that by 2020, boxing, one of the great traditional sports of the Olympics, will have gone the same way thanks to the AIBA's decision to allow professionals into the games.

The decision has probably been taken too late to materially affect this year's Olympics. But in four years we can look forward to the competition being dominated by professionals who don't have any world title fight coming up in the near future.

Finals which were once the crowning glory of an amateur career will instead be fought out by the WBC number eight and the IBF number 11 with perhaps the odd big name coming out of retirement to add a meaningless notch to their belt.

For now though Olympic boxing still matters. And if Michael Conlan, Katie Taylor and Paddy Barnes prevail their medals will mean 100 times more than those which might have been won by Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry had they played four pointless rounds in Rio.

Katie Taylor criticised the withdrawing golfers last week for taking away from the Olympics. In fact she should be grateful to them. By pulling out they're directing the spotlight back on the Olympians who deserve it.

Sunday Indo Sport

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