Monday 5 December 2016

True power of Olympic ideal to galvanise humanity lost on stay-away golfers

Don Mullan

Published 13/08/2016 | 02:30

Samia Yusuf Omar of Somalia competes in Beijing in 2008. Picture Credits: Getty Images
Samia Yusuf Omar of Somalia competes in Beijing in 2008. Picture Credits: Getty Images

It was to be a moment of celebration. After a 112-year hiatus, golf is back at the Olympics. But the four top names are missing - Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. All pulled out due to fears of the Zika virus.

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It's easy to be cynical about the concerns expressed by golf's top four. Thousands of athletes have arrived, many having struggled in adverse conditions, most of whom will not earn in a life-time what top golfers can earn in a tournament.

One only has to recall the 17-year-old Somali sprinter, Samia Yusuf Omar, who came last in her 200m qualifying heat at the Beijing Olympics. She had trained without facilities, all the while trying to avoid the notice of the Islamist militia al-Shabab. She competed in Beijing with donated runners, given to her by a Sudanese competitor.

Samia's dream was to escape to Europe and find a coach who would train her for the 2012 London Olympics. She risked her life in crossing deserts to do so and the Mediterranean Sea was the last frontier between hell and hope. But it wasn't to be. London was unable to welcome the young Somali woman. Samia drowned in a refugee boat off the coast of Italy in 2011, just short of her 21st birthday. To be an Olympian and to represent her country was her driving force.

Perhaps, more than most, Samia Yusuf Omar epitomises the idealism of the Olympic Creed: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

And in that spirit, the Little Prince Children's Hospital, Brazil and Latin America's largest paediatric hospital, has decided not to let Day, Spieth, Johnson and McIlroy's absence go unnoticed on this momentous and historic occasion for golf. The legendary Brazilian footballer Pelé, whom the International Olympic Committee named 'Athlete of the 20th Century' in 1999, is patron of the hospital.

On June 23, the hospital's CEO, Jose Carneiro, wrote 'An Open Letter to Rory McIlroy', who was the first of the top four to withdraw from the Rio Olympics.

In that letter, he asked McIlroy to galvanise the sporting profession, beginning with the golfing fraternity, to support the work of Brazilian medical research scientists at the Little Prince Research Institute.

Carneiro has now followed up with 'An Open Letter to Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson'. He writes: "As athletes of the 21st Century, we ask you, and all athletes … to stand with the 'Athlete of the 20th Century' - Pelé - in building a positive legacy to the Rio Olympic Games."

The letter continues: "In my letter to Rory I stated: 'While we understand your reasons for withdrawing… the reality for us is that the medical profession throughout Brazil still must deal with the threats posed by the Zika virus. We are not only fighting to contain and eliminate the virus, but we are also working desperately to stop it from spreading to Africa and Europe, and the rest of the world.'

"We are anxious not to let Zika overshadow our Olympic Games which should be a cause of celebration and peace building for all humanity…

"In a world where we see too much suffering, inhumanity and conflict, let us come together, during this great global celebration of our common humanity, to be ambassadors for our children, especially our most vulnerable."

Referring to the opening and closing ceremonies at Maracana Stadium, Carneiro informs the golfing greats that it was here in 1969 that Pelé, scored his 1,000th goal, which he immediately dedicated to "the children".

That dedication, Carneiro states, the doctors, nurses, medical scientists and staff now try to make a shining example and reality to the world.

The CEO of the Little Prince Children's Hospital ends his letter, as he did McIlroy's, expressing the hope that it will be possible to welcome Day, Spieth and Johnson to Brazil in the future.

And he wishes all good health, hoping for a positive response to his heartfelt appeal.

These are challenging times for Brazil, Zika notwithstanding. When the Olympic flame is extinguished in the Maracana on August 21, perhaps golf's top four might, indeed, transform their personal concerns into a practical expression of respect and support by joining Pelé's dedication in 1969 to "the children", thus igniting the real light of hope the Olympics must be.

Irish Independent

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