Sunday 25 March 2018

Protecting the golden goose is the first priority for big swinging blokes

Late last May Rory McIlroy declared his reservations about competing in Rio, given that he and his fiancée were hoping to start a family in the coming years. Photo:Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Late last May Rory McIlroy declared his reservations about competing in Rio, given that he and his fiancée were hoping to start a family in the coming years. Photo:Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Tommy Conlon

Never mind the mosquito, they are falling like flies and carrying on like nervous ninnies afraid of their own shadow.

The rich men of world sport are saying no to the Olympics and withdrawing deeper into their air-conditioned ivory towers. The poor of world sport will be there, Zika or no Zika.

McIlroy, McDowell, Lowry; Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Vijay Singh and Jason Day; male golfers are apparently susceptible to falling pregnant in tropical climes. So having sought the best advice available on these pressing family planning matters, they’ve decided to use the Billings method and abstain from Rio altogether.

What a shower of wusses. Thousands of athletes have visited Brazil over the last two years to compete in various test events and not one that we know of has contracted the Zika virus. The World Health Organisation reports that the virus “usually causes mild illness”. It says that of those infected, “many will not develop any symptoms at all”. Others will show symptoms such as conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue. “The symptoms usually last from two to seven days.”

The most vulnerable demographic is pregnant women. Brazil has seen a spike in birth deformities linked to Zika infection. It can also cause the neurological disorder known as Guillain-Barré syndrome. Pregnant women are therefore advised to avoid visiting places where the virus may be active. Otherwise people are advised to take the normal precautions with mosquitoes anywhere: insect repellent, clothing that covers the body, mosquito nets etc.

In reality, the chances of visiting Olympians contracting the virus are remote. The chances that the virus could lead to reproductive problems are remoter still. As always it is the poorest indigenous people who are most vulnerable to the disease. Multi-millionaire golfers pampered and protected in seven-star hotels for a week, backed up by extensive medical expertise, are highly unlikely to be affected. They could each afford to have their own personal squad of mosquito bodyguards on call 24/7 if they needed the reassurance.

Late last May Rory McIlroy declared his reservations about competing in Rio, given that he and his fiancée were hoping to start a family in the coming years. Ten days ago he bailed. A day later Graeme McDowell withdrew, citing his wife’s current pregnancy among his considerations. And last Tuesday Shane Lowry caved, saying that he and his wife also hope to start a family in the near future.

Read more: Why it’s never easy to tell it like it is

If nothing else, it proves that the herd mentality is not just confined to team sports. And surely if they wanted to go badly enough, they could’ve left the missus safe at home anyway.

Katie Taylor is not alone in suspecting that the golfers weren’t particularly pushed about Rio in the first place. The suspicion grows that, basically, they just couldn’t be arsed. “Another one bites the dust,” tweeted Taylor, after Lowry pulled out. “I wonder what excuse the golfers would of (sic) made if there was no virus.”

McIlroy came close to admitting their indifference at a press conference in France last Wednesday. “I have four Olympic Games (ie four Major championships) a year. That’s my pinnacle. That’s what I play for. That’s what I’ll be remembered for. Most other athletes dream their whole lives of competing in the Olympics, winning an Olympic gold, and we haven’t. We dream of winning Claret Jugs and we dream of winning Green Jackets.”

This wholesale withdrawal by some of the game’s big stars should be a matter of some embarrassment for the International Olympic Committee, if it were capable of being embarrassed. Golf hadn’t been an Olympic sport since 1904. The IOC decided to reinstate it purely for television ratings and subsequent revenues. It was the same motivation that has prompted them to open up amateur boxing, one of its great traditional sports, to the professional ranks. The big television companies wanted famous names to drive up ratings; the IOC has been happy to compromise its principles accordingly. But having rolled out the red carpet to the gods of golf, it has been publicly jilted in return.

Lowry’s decision in particular was a surprise. He has always worn his Irishness on his sleeve. He would absolutely have loved to bring an Olympic medal back to Dublin airport. It looks like he received some bad advice from his handlers. If he was unsure about whether to stick or twist, someone in his inner circle should have told him clearly to step up and fly the flag for his country in Rio. The risks were minimal, the rewards potentially memorable. Then again, the first priority is to protect the golden goose at all times.

Ireland, meanwhile, has a world-class boxer who can’t go to Rio because the IOC will only permit three weight classes in women’s boxing. World silver medallist Kellie Harrington has lived in near penury to pursue her dream of winning an Olympic medal. The Olympic Games has always been the shining city on a hill for those of society’s have-nots who had the talent and dedication to make it a reality. Harrington can’t go although she would dearly love to; McIlroy et al won’t go because they just don’t want to.

But virtually every elite sportswoman who can go, will go; they are all about to man up, the top female golfers included. The big swinging blokes on the other hand have suddenly grown ovaries and gone all hormonal.

Online Editors

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