The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency. As our top athletes head to Rio to compete in the Olympic games, Zika is most definitely on the minds of athletes and their families. Particularly concerned are those athletes whose sport requires them to spend a great deal of time outside. For the first time in 112 years, golf will be an Olympic sport. The question remains: is Zika virus a genuine worry for Olympic golf?
According to a new study out of Yale University, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, between just three and 37 people out of a possible 500,000 visiting Brazil (including athletes) for the Rio Olympics would be expected to go home with Zika. The study was carried out as a risk assessment in response to many who have called for the games to be moved or cancelled. Researchers from the Yale School of Public Health determined that the risk was negligible.
Despite this information, many of the world’s top golfers have already withdrawn from the competition in Rio. In an official statement by number one ranked, Jason Day, he said “Zika virus, it was a very difficult decision to make, obviously from representing your country, but also having to put family first and make sure that’s a priority over anything else, more so than golf and the Olympics,” Day said on Tuesday at Firestone Country Club. “I just can’t put my family through that, especially with the future children we’re looking at having.”
This is a list ranked by Official World Golf Ranking at the time they withdrew.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to bring back golf as an Olympic sport in 2009, for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Games. It was last played at the Olympics in 1904. The IOC vote was a surprise to many in the golf world, because golf is such an individual sport. The structure for Olympic golf will be no different than any other PGA Tour or Major – a 72-hole individual play format.
Therefore, it almost makes sense that golfers are pulling out of the Olympics. For a swimmer, an Olympic Gold medal is the ultimate prize, but for a golfer, a Gold medal means virtually nothing compared to winning one of the four major golf tournaments. Going to Rio means missing the $5 million John Deere Classic in Illinois. If a golfer were to become ill in Rio, it’s possible that he would miss the prestigious Ryder Cup. So perhaps the Zika virus has simply become a convenient excuse for some of the world’s best golfers.