Golfers ‘should embrace the Olympic spirit’

President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach speaks golf in the Olympic Games. Picture: Ian Rutherford
President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach speaks golf in the Olympic Games. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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AS THE media tent at St Andrews shook and the wind howled, it would be difficult to feel further from Rio de Janeiro and the sultry delights of the Copacabana. However, that is to where thoughts were transported yesterday when IOC president Thomas Bach paid a visit to the windswept golfing press to discuss the sport’s return to the Olympics in Brazil next summer.

With no play taking place outside due to the fearsome gales, it was a good opportunity to address some thorny issues which have made golf’s reinstatement to the Summer Games fall short of universal approvement.

I advise them to stay there and to share this Olympic spirit

IOC president Thomas Bach

One of the main causes of unease stems from how the millionaire lifestyle of golf’s superstars sits with the Olympic spirit, a concern that was also aired when professional basketball and tennis was admitted to the programme in 1990.

When asked how he felt people used to flying in private jets and staying in detached luxury could adapt to the unique atmosphere of the Games, Bach was adamant that if the players were willing to immerse themselves in the experience, they would be rewarded with riches you don’t get from zeros on a cheque.

“Let’s just see what happens,” said the German. “I’m very confident that we will have the best golf players of the world performing in Rio, and I can only advise them to stay in the Olympic Village, because if they don’t, afterwards they will regret it.

“We had an example with the Dream Team in basketball in ‘92. There, the NBA players were insisting on having a special hotel, renting whole floors, then after the competition they made a tour through the Olympic Village.

“They said it was a great tournament, that we would like to come back definitely for the next Games, but on one condition – and we were starting to sweat what this condition may be – and it was ‘we want to stay in the Olympic Village in the future’. I can only advise them [golfers] to stay there and to share this Olympic spirit.”

Whether that transpires will be interesting to see. Andy Murray famously blamed his poor performance at the Beijing Olympics on the “distractions” of Village life and opted to stay at home when he won gold in 2012 – although he did have the benefit of the tournament being on his doorstep at Wimbledon. The other matter which has niggled about the concept of Olympic golf, which will consist of male and female strokeplay competitions in 2016, with matchplay and team events considered for 2020, has been the fact that, like tennis, basketball and football, a gold medal would not represent the pinnacle of achievement in the sport.

Tiger Woods is on record as saying that a Green Jacket or Claret Jug will always mean more than an Olympic title, but Bach said: “Ask the gold medallist after he or she has been standing on the podium listening to the anthem and being celebrated by the world, then they will give you the answer.”

On the subject of Woods, who has cut such a forlorn figure around the Old Course in the last few days, Bach was asked whether his likely absence would diminish the tournament.

With four players representing each country, the fading star is well out of the mix – heck, even world No 6 Jim Furyk would miss out if the US team was named today.

Bach said: “Well, it’s a pity for himself. For the IOC, it’s about the best athletes and we are happy to welcome them, whoever qualifies.

“With Tiger Woods, I had the opportunity to speak with him earlier this year and I asked him about Rio, and he said, ‘I would love to play, and I will do everything to qualify’.” Bach said that if Woods failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics, he “would really feel sorry for him”, but “this would in no way influence the quality of the Olympic tournament”.

It was also confirmed yesterday that Olympic golf will operate under the International Golf Federation’s anti-doping policy, which is WADA-compliant.

This will come into effect 13 weeks out from the Olympics in Rio. From 6 May, 2016 through to the conclusion of the Games, there will be a registered testing pool, created and managed by the IGF, and male and female golfing athletes will be subject to both urine and blood tests for substances on the WADA prohibited list.