Peter Dawson, the president of the International Golf Federation, has accused his sport’s leading players of “overreaction” regarding the Zika virus threat after Jordan Spieth became the latest to withdraw from the Olympics.
Spieth’s decision means none of the world’s top four ranked players and six of the leading 10 will not appear when golf returns to the Games this summer following a 112-year absence.
“We have invested a huge amount of time and effort on player education and they’ve had no lack of opportunity, I think, to make their own well-informed decisions about what they want to do,” Dawson said. “It’s certainly disappointing that we’ve had so many withdrawals on the men’s side and wonderful that all of the women have been very supportive.
“I think I should say now that I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to discuss individual cases, especially as they’re generally decisions that have been taken on health grounds. Speaking collectively though, there is no doubt that the number of withdrawals hasn’t shed golf in the best light. We have to accept that. But we do understand why these individual decisions have been taken.
“Personally, I think there’s been something of an overreaction to the Zika situation, but that’s for individuals to determine, and there’s certainly a great deal of concern about this issue inside the game of golf, no doubt about that.”
In response to a subsequent question over how susceptible golfers may be to Zika, which is transmitted via mosquitos, Dawson replied with more than a touch of sarcasm: “I take great heart from the fact we haven’t lost a greenkeeper yet.”
Spieth informed the IGF of his decision via telephone on Monday afternoon, shortly before those responsible for golf in the Olympics were appearing for a scheduled media conference.
“In the phone call, it was out of concern for the health issues that we’ve been talking about,” Ty Votaw, the IGF’s vice-president, said. The 22-year-old will expand publicly on Tuesday, when he takes part in press duties at Royal Troon in advance of the Open Championship.
Dawson did not hide his disappointment when asked if he had been hurt by the level of withdrawals. “There’s no denying that,” the former chief executive of the R&A said. “We had massive support in 2009 [when golf was voted back into the Games] from both the top men and the top women. It’s true to say that the top players today are by and large different people from the ones that were talking then. Whether there’s been a sea change in opinion, I don’t actually think so. I think you’re going to see golf come through as a strong Olympic sport.
“I think it’s worth remembering as well that the withdrawals that we’ve experienced have primarily come from four countries: Australia, Ireland, South Africa and the United States. They’re certainly strong golfing countries, no question about that. But they are a very small minority of the 143 countries in the membership of the IGF. We’re going to have more than 40 nations competing in Rio.”
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