Olympics, Golf and the Acceptance of Risk

For those who haven’t been paying attention, every Olympics comes with its own set of controversies. Sometimes everything looks good, until show time (1972 Munich), other times its hyperbole around security (London 2012 spent £600 million mainly over concerns raised by 2011 England riots). We have held Olympics in countries with poor/really bad human rights records (2008 Beijing), we have seen Olympics moved (1920 Summer , 1976 Winter), and we have seen a lot of Olympic boycotts (1936, 1956, 1976, 1980 Winter, 1980 Summer, 1984, 1988 Summer).  Oh, and in 1936 the Nazis got to host the Olympics (in the IOC’s defense the Nazis weren’t around when they awarded the Games in 1931).

Given the volatile history of the Olympic movement and the fact it is unlikely to change, I wonder what the long term prognosis is for golf as an Olympic sport? Can PGA Tour players, with the means to not participate in the Olympics, resign themselves to an Olympic movement that will time and time again walk the fine line between the comforts of the first world and exploring new territory in the second world (maybe even third world some day), where its not as safe, on a number of fronts.

The reality is that NBA players, PGA Tour players, European Tour Players, WTA Tour Players and ATP Tour Players don’t need to go to the Olympics (could include the very top of the LPGA as well I suppose). For most of them the Olympics doesn’t mean more/better endorsement deals, winning doesn’t come with direct financial incentives that would be anything more than a drop in a very large bucket, and an Olympic medal doesn’t represent the top achievement in their sport.

Contrast this with a Canadian rower/kayaker/swimmer/ etc, who’s main source of income is the $18 -20,000 annually he/she gets through the Canadian Athlete Assistance Program. On top of that they may have some sponsors (family friends most likely) and some winnings from international competitions. This individual, whether they feel overly comfortable about their safety or not, is going to Rio, polluted water, Zika virus and all. The stakes are too high not to. For this individual, winning a medal at the Olympics isn’t icing on the cake, it’s the cake, their livelihood depends on it.

I get that individuals have to take care of themselves and I don’t blame the golfers for having to make the decision that is best for them. I am disappointing that as a whole (or at least a portion of the whole) golf (male golf so far) has decided that the Olympics just aren’t worth the risk. Unfortunately for them, there will be few Olympics that come with no risk. Anyone saying, lets just get through Rio and look forward to Tokyo in 2020 is day dreaming, Tokyo will have their own issues that will require athletes to accept a certain level of risk.

See you at the turn,




3 Comments Add yours

  1. Brian Penn says:

    Brewcee, the world’s best golfers never intended to play at Rio and are simply using Zika as a convenient excuse not to go. Adam Scott had the courage to tell the truth when he withdrew because it didn’t fit his schedule. The world’s best are measured by major championships not gold medals. The Olympics has thrown the major schedule out of whack for 2016 with the PGA starting just 11 days after The British Open conclusion. When you drop in the Ryder Cup and FedEx playoffs in the early Fall, Olympic participation is simply exceeding the law of diminishing returns for viewers and creating an unnecessary distraction for the pros. It makes no sense. I’m in the camp against the idea of Olympic golf for professionals and hope they drop the sport in 2020 or make it an amateur event only – now that would be interesting. Now that Jason Day and Rory are out, the floodgates are open.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post,


    1. aaronrbruce says:

      Hey Brian,

      Thanks for chiming in.

      At the end of the day, in the general world of sports, the Olympic games is way bigger and “more important” than any single event within any single sport (while it may not be viewed that way from within a particular sport, the finances don’t lie). In that vein, I understand why golf pushed to be included. Part of the reason the Olympics is what it is today (a multi billion dollar “movement”) is due to the fact that sports feature the best of the best, which draws viewers and ultimately advertisers and sponsors. I don’t think amateurs for golf is the right solution, it would minimize the importance golf (the golf establishment in general) place on the Olympics, which would be bad for the Olympic image, which would be bad for golf remaining in the Olympics.

      I say give the Olympics your best, or step aside and let another sport in that can deliver its top athletes.


      1. Brian Penn says:

        Aaron, that makes sense and in the case of golf, I’d rather see it step aside. It’s probably going the way Olympic baseball did for the same reason – professionals are not measured by their success in the Olympics. I love baseball but for the life of me cannot recall who won the last Olympic gold medal. Success is measured in World Series championships, as it should be. In golf, it’s the majors that count and the pros know it. You can only muster so much mental and physical energy to compete. It can be argued that the FedEx playoffs have pushed golf over the point of diminishing returns and adding Olympic participation, while well intentioned, would be better served for another sport with less visibility on the world stage. Thanks!


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