By Tony Jimenez
TROON, Scotland (Reuters) – Ladies European Tour (LET) chief executive Ivan Khodabakhsh has dismissed the idea that golf will be excluded from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after a British bookmaker offered odds of 10-1 on the prospect.
A host of big-name male withdrawals from next month’s Games in Rio de Janeiro including the top four in the world, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, has caused a media frenzy at this week’s British Open.
Ladbrokes reacted to the furor by opening a book on the possibility of golf, which is returning to the Olympics in August for the first time since 1904, being excluded in Japan.
“For Tokyo it is a confirmed sport 100 percent, golf will be there,” Khodabakhsh told Reuters in an interview at Royal Troon.
“It is now more about how we position golf in the future beyond Tokyo.
“Right now the stage has gone to those who, for whatever reason, are saying they can’t make it. Once the Games start though it is all going to be about those who are there competing for their country.”
Day, Johnson and McIlroy pulled out because of the threat from the Zika outbreak in the Americas while Spieth opted not to go to Rio for more general health reasons.
The mosquito-borne virus can potentially cause severe birth defects in babies whose mothers are infected during pregnancy, including microcephaly, marked by a small head size that can lead to developmental problems.
While the men’s event in Rio will be decimated by no-shows, world number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand is to lead an almost full-strength lineup of female players in Brazil.
“If anything Zika should be a concern for female golfers and athletes and it’s amazing the positive feedback we’ve had from our LET players,” said Khodabakhsh.
“We’ve received all the health information from the IGF (International Golf Federation) and IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the overwhelming feedback we had was ‘we will never let a mosquito come between us fulfulling our dreams’.
“I could understand unease from any female athletes, especially young ones, when it comes to the virus,” said the 49-year-old German.
“The bottom line is that it’s not good news that male players are withdrawing but there are so many players who are excited to be a part of Rio.”
Khodabakhsh said all the tours and associations in golf were united in their support of the Olympics and would combine to show players in the future how important it is to grow their sport.
“We have to put all this in perspective, we look back to when tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988 and the topic of conversation was ‘is it as big as a grand slam’?”, he added.
“But it’s not a fair comparison. It’s about chasing an Olympic medal, it’s about the Olympic Games. It’s a different experience.
“The four tennis grand slams will always stand as they are, the same way the four golfing majors will always stand as they are, but we hope golf can be much faster than tennis in positioning itself in the Olympic program,” said Khodabakhsh.
“From what I can recall there weren’t many of the top 10 tennis players competing in the 1988 Games. When the Olympics start next month people will start talking about who’s there, rather than who’s not there.”
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)