Women's chief rounds on high-profile Olympic withdrawals
Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30
Rory McIlroy and the rest of the Olympic male refuseniks have come under attack from the women's game, with a top official claiming "they have let down the rest of the sport very badly".
The world's top four men's golfers all turned down the opportunity to play in Rio despite the sport returning to the Games after a 112-year absence.
McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day all cited their concerns about the Zika virus, while Jordan Spieth scratched because of "health reasons". In all, 20 male professionals removed their name from consideration. In marked contrast only one female golfer pulled out - South African Lee-Anne Pace. Golf is guaranteed to be at Tokyo 2020, but the International Olympic Committee will review whether it will continue on the roster next year.
It would be viewed as a disaster for the women's game if the IOC struck golf off the list from 2024. As it fights for exposure in the shadows cast by the male superstars, the Olympic stage is plainly a huge opportunity for the women golfers.
Ivan Khodabakhsh, the chief executive of the Ladies' European Tour, pulled no punches in his assessment of the exodus. "The top male golfers have let down the rest of the sport very badly," he said. "The opportunity to do something for the broader good of the game is in their hands and they seem to be taking a very myopic approach.
"Brazil is a country of 200 million people in which fewer than 20,000 are registered golfers. The impact of the Olympics on those type of numbers across the world is part of the reason golf [needs to be] a success as an Olympic sport.
"British golf is represented by great champions Charley Hull and Catriona Matthew but across the world, 60 women golfers from 34 countries will tee off in Rio. This will send a powerful message to sports fans and governments of all types that women's golf is a genuine world-class sport."
Meanwhile, the head of the Professional Squash Association has said his sport is "intensely frustrated and disappointed" by the withdrawal of golf's leading stars. Squash was snubbed in favour of golf for this year's Olympics, and PSA chief executive Alex Gough has accused some top golfers of "clutching at straws" to find an excuse to avoid competing.
"It was almost predictable," said Gough. "Very early on Adam Scott said Olympic golf was, in his words, going to be an exhibition event. That basically showed everyone else that it was not held in as high esteem by the top players as it should be. You've got guys saying it won't count as their pinnacle, and that's the most disappointing thing to the squash-playing community." (© Daily Telegraph, London)