OPINION: Top golfers should not have been given the chance to snub Olympics

Gymnastic sisters Becky and Ellie Downie wouldn't snub the Olympics.

Gymnastic sisters Becky and Ellie Downie wouldn't snub the Olympics.

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A lot has been made about the dwindling number of top golfers at next month’s Olympic Games in Rio — in fact the world’s top four players will not be swinging a club in Brazil as the sport returns after a 112-year absencer.

Some of those choosing not to go have said their decisions were based on fears over the Zika virus.

The mosquito-borne virus has been linked to defects in newborn babies, meaning athletes looking to start a family have been urged to take extra precautions if going to Brazil.

Others have said it is a tournament too far for them and they do not see it as a fifth major, despite the sport’s high-profile return to the showpiece sporting spectacle.

US Open champion Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy have mixed views with Spieth saying he may attend a future Olympics.

Mcllroy first blamed fears over the virus but then admitted he would not be watching any of the golf at the Olympics on TV.

He said his focus was on winning golfs majors — in other words, an Olympics gold medal was not in his sights. He even suggested he would watch other sports in Brazil but not golf.

McIlroy, who has four majors, was the first of the top four to withdraw from the Games, saying that golf’s majors were more important to players than winning a gold medal.

He said: “I don’t feel like I’ve let the game down at all. I didn’t get into golf to try to grow the game, I tried to get into golf to win championships.”

So, like it or lump it, a lot of the top golf players do not see the Olympics as worth their time or effort.

Johnson, who only won his first major in June, said it was not an easy decision, but he was concerned about the Zika virus as he planned to have more children in the future.

Despite guidance from Olympic chiefs and the World Health Organisation, who and say the risk of catching Zika is low, Johnson opted to stay away.

You can’t blame him or any athlete opting not to go on health grounds, although for some of the top golfers the health issue seems to be a convenient excuse.

But for me the bigger point is why are we even discussing professional golfers, who earn top dollars for plying their trade, taking part an an Olympic Games?

Surely if the Olympics were really serious about the sport of golf, we would not be talking about professional golfers taking part at Rio, but amateurs?

All this does is confirm that the International Olympic Committee opted for the money rather than the true principle of the Olympic movement — amateur sport.

When the decision was made to re-introduce golf in 2009 there was speculation that American TV giants NBC wanted the sport to be included so that it could feature the likes of Tiger Woods, at that time possibly the biggest name in world sport and a great draw for their advertisers and sponsors.

NBC and the USA in general have a massive sway over the Olympics and it seems that whatever the TV giants wants it gets.

NBC in particular also puts an awful lot of resources into golf and that is why they wanted the likes of Tiger Woods and now today’s big name stars at the world’s biggest sporting showpiece.

So that is why golf was brought into the Games. Not because the organisers and powers-that-be saw it is a sport they wanted to embrace, but because they wanted the money that featuring the top professional golfers was going to bring from TV broadcasters.

Well, at least that is the way it looks to me.

And, of course, golf was brought back to the detriment of other sports, like squash, which have been crying out for a place at the Holy Grail of sport — and would treat it with the respect it deserves.

Perhaps there is a place for golf at the Olympics, like any sport it has its merits.

But isn’t the main attraction and history of the Games the fact that it is the amateurs who shine and are given their chance for glory — and the chance to be in the spotlight for once.

Take gymnastics, for example, and sisters Becky and Ellie Downie.

Their sport and its members see the Olympics as the ultimate dream and they would not be saying their schedule was too busy to go to Rio.

Professional sportsmen and women are always going to look after their long-term career first rather than view the Olympic Games as their pinnacle — as all, well almost all, amateurs do.

If an Olympic gold medal is not the ultimate prize in a sport, then that sport should not be at the Games.