In 1988, tennis returned to the Olympic Games after a 64-year absence. In Seoul, Miroslav Mecir beat Tim Mayotte to win Gold for Czechoslovakia. It was hardly the star-studded final that organisers had anticipated. Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Pat Cash, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Boris Becker were all among the top 8 seeds for Wimbledon in 1988. None of them played in the Olympics. Only Stefan Edberg, who won a bronze medal, and Henri Leconte would participate from the top 8.
It feels we are seeing a remarkably similar return to the Olympic Games for golf. Golf and tennis are easily compared since both have four majors that are the pinnacle of the sport, rather than the Olympics.
Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen is a similarly impressive list of golf withdrawals to that of tennis in 1988. Most have cited fears over the Zika virus. Lowry, who said previously that he was excited to play for Ireland, said he had received “firm medical advice not to travel to the Olympics in Rio,” as someone planning to have children in the next couple of years.
On the women’s side, like tennis in 1988 where more stars took part, is more scarce. As the deadline looms, the number of women withdrawing has been few and far between so far.
We have to believe that the players do have genuine concerns about Zika. Yet it feels like golf, particularly on the men’s side, is showing resistance to this new event on their schedule. Professionals have their priorities, it is hard to see so of the top golfers missing a major, the Ryder Cup, or even a WGC for what has been described as a ‘low-risk’ chance of contracting the virus.
After a less than enthusiastic start to tennis at the Olympics, the event has established itself in the bracket just below the majors. Andy Murray’s win over Roger Federer in the final in London was treated with the same fanfare as winning a major. It was the who’s who of tennis competing as Federer, Djokovic and Murray all fought it out for medals, while Serena Williams defeated Maria Sharapova to win Olympic Gold.
Roger Federer said of his decision to play in this year’s Olympics in Brazil:
“I have never reconsidered my decision. I know I will play. For me, the Olympics has always been a big deal. It was always going to be a priority for me. It is a completely personal decision, in my opinion not to play. I’ll take the precautions I have to.”
The 2016 Olympics in Rio will be the eighth time that tennis has been in the Games since 1988. Djokovic and Federer, two of the greatest players of all-time, and winners of all four Grand Slam tournaments in their time, genuinely see no Olympic Gold as a hole in their near-perfect resumes. It is a priority. Will it take golf a similar amount of time for the Olympics to become a priority?
Golf has been renewed for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. A golf-mad country, Japan will embrace the Olympic Golf movement. It would be a shame if golf was not renewed after that. The benefits to be had for promoting golf globally cannot be understated.
The Zika excuse may be given the benefit of the doubt this time. But it won’t fly next time around.