“Ungrateful,” “Disrespectful,” “Undeserving”. These are just a few of the terms used to describe the individuals from the sport of golf who have chosen to forego attendance at the 2016 Olympic Games set to begin next month. While most (albeit not all) of the athletes opting to skip the largest sporting event of the year have cited concerns pertaining to the general health and safety of host city, Rio de Janeiro (specifically pointing toward the risks associated with contracting the Zika virus), they have been both slashed and slandered, their words judged as untruthful excuses for the real reason behind missing the event, which is simply that ‘they have better things to do.’
I was quick to jump aboard the bandwagon. As a squash player, I have too often fallen ill to the sudden loss of words we face at having to explain why our sport – in my opinion the pinnacle of athletic ability – is not included in the Olympic roster. Countless times have I sat in front of the television to watch athletes don their national flags with pride and felt a ripple of jealousy and a tsunami of injustice. It’s simply not fair. The hours upon hours of mental and physical strain I have undergone to achieve a high level in squash should have, at the very least, earned me a shot at making the team. More importantly, our sport as a whole – filled with talented, hardworking, and deserving individuals – has suffered one too many political blows to not, at last, be given its rightful place at the Olympics.
One such blow, ironically, occurred when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) opted to induct golf instead of squash for inclusion in this year’s Olympic Games. Citing the global popularity and historic legacy of the sport as reasons for their choice, it was evident that the IOC’s decision ‘may’ have been influenced by the potential monetary benefits associated with adding golf – and all of its corporate sponsors – to the Olympic roster. So much for the idea of “Olympism,” right?
And so, like most squash players, when I heard that the top four ranked male golfers have decided to skip the Olympics, I was furious. “Those ungrateful bastards!” “How could they be so disrespectful to the Olympics and their countries?” “Golf doesn’t deserve a place in the Olympics!” “I’d go in a heartbeat.” And I would go in a heartbeat. I really would.
But who am I to judge?
Who am I to judge the deservingness of athletes competing in the sport of golf (an incredibly difficult and beautiful game) to be a part of the Olympics when I myself have been subject to the same judgment coming from individuals within the IOC? Who am I to cast aside the benefit of the doubt and assume that golfers such as Jordan Spieth and Jason Day (Not Rory Mccllroy – perhaps another blog at another time) are lying when they claim risk of Zika as the main determinant of their decision? Who am I to decide what value a particular sporting competition should hold to an individual when I come from a sport that cancelled this year’s Men’s World Team Championships for similar reasons to those stated by many of the golfers not going to Rio?
As squash players, we must be careful not to throw the first stone. As athletes, we must be willing to support our fellow sportspersons. As humans, we must be prepared to set aside our prejudices, choosing instead to perceive others in a manner that is not dissimilar from the way we ourselves would like to be perceived.
I cannot say that golf, in its purest form, does not deserve a place in the Olympics. I cannot tell you whether or not athletes like Spieth and Day are lying when they say they are concerned about Zika. And, although I myself would take the risk of contracting the disease in order to compete at the greatest games in the world, I cannot purport that this course of action is ‘right’ for every individual out there.
But what I can say is this: where the IOC has failed in the promotion and relegation of the Olympic Ideal, we can succeed. We can utilize the negative press that has been directed toward golfers not as a means of illustrating the ways that squash would have been a superior Olympic sport, but to voice our support for a variety of athletic endeavours. We can avoid questioning the motives behind athletes choosing to forego the Olympics, and instead demonstrate empathy and compassion toward our fellow athletes. We can show class and uphold the true definition of Olympism.
To quote one of the founding principles of the Olympic Charter, “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play.”
I believe this. I think we all do. And although it may be tempting to point the finger at all of the errors and negativities present within sports other than our own – to “throw the first stone,” so to speak – I believe it is in the best interest of all athletes and sportspersons (and humanity, for that matter) to search for that ‘mutual understanding’ described above; to stand together on a platform built of empathy and encouragement; to exemplify the notions present within the Olympic Ideal.