It’s the Olympic season, and participation and winning will be the flavours when people head to the land of Samba, Pele and football.
Despite the political, law and order and organisational mess that Brazil finds itself in, athletes and visitors will flock to Rio when the Olympics open on August 5.
There are many who will miss out, and won’t be happy. Ask India’s double Olympic-medallist Sushil Kumar or discarded women’s hockey skipper Ritu Rani. Or, the Russian athletes barred amid charges of state-sponsored doping.
But the world’s leading golfers are turning their backs on Rio. The Zika virus is a big concern, but many others couldn’t really be bothered to take a break in their pro schedule.
Nostalgia would have been a factor in the International Olympic Committee including golf in Rio. After all, it had last featured in the 1904 Games.
In the bygone amateur era, it would have been fair to slam the players for choosing money over medal. Australia’s former world No 1, Adam Scott, among the first to withdraw, was heavily criticised, among others by swimming legend Dawn Fraser.
The world’s top four players, led by Aussie Jason Day won’t go. The IOC president, Thomas Bach, has said withdrawals for reasons other than Zika will be a factor when it considers whether to retain golf in future Olympics.
But golf lives in a seemingly impregnable world. Tradition, sense of fairplay, Tiger Woods, everything has made it a truly global sport. In an age of thin margins, golf is affluent. And the message is clear: It can do without the Games.
There is a lesson in it for cricket. Cricket was part of the London Olympics opening ceremony, but was last played in Paris in 1900. Its inclusion anyway will be a complicated affair.
The IOC’s decision to let organisers of future Games choose some of their favourite disciplines may anyway reduce cricket’s chances. The ICC hopes cricket is directly included by the IOC to avoid the hassle of dealing with national Olympic committees and ensure a financial windfall, according to reports.
But there are two big questions. What will the ICC do if big names keep away. India’s cricket Board for instance has not fielded a team in the Commonwealth Games after cricket’s debut in 1998.
Besides, why should the ICC give up the primacy of its events? The World Twenty20, which it wants to stage every two years, is a money-spinner, not to speak of the T20 leagues like the IPL and Big Bash League. It won’t want the gleam of the Olympic gold dim its lustre.
SE COND THOUGHTS
Like golf, cricket’s elite too live in their universe. An IPL title may resonate better than an Olympic medal. Cheering for compatriots fighting for a podium spot is one thing, taking part and dealing with issues like ambush marketing will be seen as too much of a hassle for endorsement-rich players, particularly from India.
ICC CEO, Dave Richardson conceded golf has shone a light for cricket. “It raises a question, ‘Is it really good for cricket?’” he asked the media on Thursday. “Will cricketers see the Olympics as the pinnacle, or would they rather play (in a WT20 etc.)?”
Cricket’s globalisation too has not led to an even spread of the game. The massive TV viewership in the sub-continent could be the biggest draw for the IOC.
And then, cricket, if included, could take a cue from football. Fifa allowing essentially an under-23 Olympic tournament has ensured the World Cup retains its global primacy.
Tennis is in a happy place though; its top players are glad to fight for the fifth Grand Slam every four years.