Monday 23 April 2018

Golf chief hits out as Spieth joins Olympic absentees

Shane Lowry has a spring in his step during the first day of practice for the Open at Royal Troon Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Shane Lowry has a spring in his step during the first day of practice for the Open at Royal Troon Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

James Corrigan

Peter Dawson accused the world's top four of "overreacting" to the threat of the Zika virus as Jordan Spieth joined Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy in withdrawing from golf's reintroduction to the Olympics next month.

Dawson, the president of the International Golf Federation, which is overseeing the sport's return to the Games after a 112-year absence, did not attempt to conceal his dismay when the final qualifying list for Rio was revealed with world No 3 Spieth's name absent. Spieth has remain tight-lipped on whether he would travel to Brazil and it was left to Ty Votaw, the IGF vice-president, to provide the explanation.

"It was out of concern at health issues we have been talking about [recently]," Votaw said here. Like McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell, Spieth has pulled out because of his fears about the mosquito-borne virus which is linked to crippling birth defects.

Dawson offered his "understanding", but his frustration was clear. More than anyone, Dawson made golf's case to the International Olympic Committee and it is interesting that the 2009 bid was backed by all the top players of the day, including Tiger Woods.

"It's certainly disappointing that we've had so many withdrawals on the men's side, and wonderful that all of the women have been very supportive," said Dawson on the day that Padraig Harrington, Seamus Power and Leona Maguire were confirmed as the Irish qualifiers for Rio.

"There is no doubt that the number of withdrawals hasn't shown golf in the best light and we have to accept that. But we do understand why these individual decisions have been taken.

"Personally, I think there's been something of an overreaction to the Zika situation, but that's for individuals to determine." When asked if the exodus hurt, Dawson replied:, "There is no denying that. Wouldn't attempt to."

The IOC's response will be intriguing when it reviews the situation next year. Golf is assured of being in Tokyo in 2020, but Dawson acknowledged there was no guarantee for 2024 and onwards. He agreed with the possibility that the women's event may remain but the men's may not, although he thought this "unlikely".

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