Australian golfer Jason Day made an announcement on Tuesday that is beginning to sound like a broken, worrisome record in these days leading up to the Summer Olymics in Rio.
The top-ranked golfer decided not to compete because he’s concerned about “what’s going on down there with regards to the Zika virus,” he said.
Day said it was a difficult decision to make, but he has to “put family first and make sure that’s a priority over anything else, more so than golf and the Olympics.”
Day, 28, and his wife, Ellie, had their second child in November and plan to have more children. The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been linked to severe birth defects, and Brazil, host country for the Olympics, has been hardest hit by the outbreak.
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Day joins a growing list of athletes who have pulled out of the games, many of them over Zika concerns, others because of injuries or scheduling conflicts.
And Kansas City doctor John Lantos, director of the Bioethics Center at Children’s Mercy Hospital, has joined an international effort to postpone or possibly relocate the Olympic Games.
After winning the NBA championship last week LeBron James announced he isn’t returning to the Olympics, telling Cleveland.com, “I could use the rest.” He’s already won two golds and a bronze with Team USA.
Early this month Steph Curry also took himself out of consideration for Team USA, citing recent ankle and knee injuries. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are skipping because of injuries, too. Anthony Davis cited recent knee surgery for withdrawing.
Five of the world’s top-ranked tennis players aren’t going either. According to USA Today, their reasons varied from scheduling and personal circumstances — American John Isner, Spaniard Feliciano Lopez and Australian Bernard Tomic — to a personal beef Nick Kyrgios has with the Australian Olympic Committee. Austrian Dominic Thiem gave no reason for withdrawing.
Marathoners Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto also cited scheduling conflicts.
American cyclist Tejay van Garderen withdrew because his wife is pregnant and he doesn’t want to “risk bringing anything back that could potentially have an effect,” he said.
But golf has been hit particularly hard in a year the sport is set to make a comeback after being gone for 112 years. Some golfers have cited Zika concerns, but many have said they’re just too busy with other tournaments.
Australian Adam Scott was the first to withdraw, saying the Olympics weren’t a priority for him in a year packed with so many major championships of more historical significance for him.
Recently married Shane Lowry of Ireland withdrew this week. Four-time majors champ Rory McIlroy had already withdrawn; so had Vijay Singh, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace of South Africa, and Australians Marc Leishman, Scott Hend and Marcus Fraser.
Graeme McDowell, who was set to replace McIlroy on Ireland’s team, withdrew last week because his wife is due with their second child a few weeks after the Olympics and he does not want to be out of the country, just in case.
“I would like to play the Olympics, but the Zika virus, you know,” said Singh. “I feel bad, I wanted to play and finally decided against it. It’s in the middle of the Tour over here and I’m trying to figure out my game.”
Taking stock of how many golfers aren’t going to Rio, International Olympic Committe (IOC) member Barry Maister told a New Zealand radio show that the sport should be dropped from the games this summer.
“I think it is appalling,” said Maister, who won a gold medal in field hockey in the 1976 Olympics.
“Just getting in with your name, and then putting up some second or third rate players, is so far from the Olympic ideal or the expectation of the Olympic Movement. Quite frankly, any sport that cannot deliver its best athletes, in my view, should not be there.”
Golf hasn’t been played at the Olympics since the 1904 summer games. The IOC voted in 2009 to bring it back for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Games, which surprised many in the golf world who weren’t happy with the move.
And frankly, some of them don’t care about Olympic gold.
“Zika is an avatar for a combination of reasons players aren’t interested in going to Rio,” said Matthew Rudy, senior writer for Golf Digest.
“It’s the hassle of going down there. The crammed schedule. The drug testing. The second-class status of a medal compared to a Major. The sponsorship factor. There’s more risk than reward for a player like Rory McIlroy or Jason Day.”