Let’s get real! For golfers the Zika virus isn’t a risk, it’s an excuse

The Zika virus is a concern, but it’s time to stop wading through the crap. Nobody is willing to be critical of golfers who withdraw from the Olympics because they keep talking about their families and that’s understandable. I can be accused of heartless ignorance because i’m safely in London, I don’t play professional golf and i’m not planning a family any time soon (well that’s the plan). I just can’t silently watch another golfer withdraw from the Olympics because of the Zika Virus.

Jason Day and Shane Lowry have joined a group of players who don’t want to take the risk, a position that engenders nothing but sympathy from everyone except me.

This is the moment when you have to step away from the scaremongering and think rationally. Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust which gives away £1 billion a year to improve health worldwide, said: I do not believe the Olympics should be changed. It’s spread by mosquitos which breed very quickly when there’s rain. At the time of the Olympics in Rio the epidemic will be coming down.”  According to Rio’s health secretariat he’s completely right. A significant decline in Zika cases has already been reported. The city has seen a total of 26,576 cases of Zika so far this year, with a peak in February of 7,232 cases. In May, there were 702 reported cases. 

A test was conducted in Rio de Janeiro during the summer months – when risk is highest – and the results were astonishing, 17,000 athletes, volunteers and staff took part and not a single case of Zika was reported.

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Rory McIlroy recently withdrew from the Olympics.

Much like Ebola, Zika gets thrown around like a beach ball at a Nickleback concert, and when you realise Chad Kroeger fans are doing the throwing, it’s going to be moronic. I’m not downplaying the terrible impact that these tragedies have had, I’m just saying we need to weigh up the risks and make an evaluation that isn’t based on fear.

The virus is spread through Mosquitos and can be sexually transmitted. What does this mean for athletes? WHO recommend those returning should adopt safe-sex practices for at least eight weeks upon arrival home.

I asked a medical expert what he would do if he were a professional golfer.“Am I Tiger Woods?” he quipped, referencing the player’s infidelity, “no” I replied. “Well in that case I would understand that the chances of me contracting Zika were minuscule. I would also be aware that the chances of me keeping and passing on the virus without realising were also small.”  

He went on to say he sympathised with players, especially if their partner was pregnant, but he thought the concerns had been exaggerated. “How many other athletes have withdrawn from the Olympics because of Zika?” he asked. About seven” I replied, looking down at a list made up entirely of golfers except for cyclist Tejay van Garderen. 

“If [my wife] were not pregnant right now, assuming I was selected, I would go,” van Garderen, 27, told CyclingTips. “But the fact is, she is pregnant. If we were just going to start trying, I’d say we could start trying six months after the Olympics. But when she has a baby in her belly, I don’t want to take any chances.” 

A letter to Rory McIlroy from a Children's hospital.
A letter to Rory McIlroy from a Children’s hospital.

Golfers aren’t withdrawing because of health risks, the truth is they don’t care about the Olympics. They have piggybacked on a concern that doesn’t exist and why? Because nobody wants to travel to Brazil, none of them want to disrupt their schedules for the sake of an unestablished competition. It does seem a shame that golf has missed an opportunity to project itself on to a global stage, but I don’t blame the players. What remains is an Olympic event that has now descended into a farce, one which will surely spell the end for our sport’s Olympic credentials.

Gary Player should keep his phone close by, he could be getting a call.