Golf may be retuning to the Olympics this year, but you might not know it by the number of high-profile players electing to not make the trip to Rio. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Hason Day and Dustin Johnson, among others, have all opted not to participate in the Summer Olympics.
Virtually all of the top female golfers are going, but the top males? Not a chance.
This has to be bad for Olympic golf, right?
“Well, I’m being honest now,” NBC Sports legend Bob Costas said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Golf returned to the Olympic program. This isn’t going to help it in terms of getting it entrenched with the people who run the IOC. There are cases to be made for other sports. Softball is a glaring omission. It kind of got swept up with baseball in the minds of the mostly European people who are the heads of the IOC. They kind of lump them together. There’s a good reason why baseball might not be an Olympic sport. You can’t get the best players in the world assembled during the summertime. They’re playing elsewhere. But you can get the best softball players in the world. So there’s a case t be made for that. Golf may be on the bubble. In fairness, I think if golf is to be an Olympic sport and deserves to be an Olympic sport, you have to look at Brazil as an aberration and consider the legitimate reasons why some golfers are bypassing that. That doesn’t mean you’d have the same situation in Tokyo in 2020 or wherever the next Summer Olympics after that is in 2024.
“But I think it also connects to a larger question,” Costas continued. “It’s nothing against the Olympics, but the Dream Team was a once-in-a-lifetime – maybe a once-for-all-time situation – and it captivated everybody. But in truth, those who play major team sports or sports like golf or tennis may love participating in the Olympics, but you can’t say logically it could mean the same thing to them that it means to Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps or 99 percent of Olympians for whom the Olympics is the absolute pinnacle of what they do. If you gave every golfer truth serum, would they rather win the Masters or would they rather win the Olympic gold medal?”
Probably the Masters, especially for McIlroy, who earlier this week said he probably won’t watch much of the golf coverage, if any.
“I don’t have any problem with what he said,” Costas said. “What he said was true for him and it made sense. I think he had every right to feel the way he felt.”
While the Masters be more important than the Olympics to the average golfer, Brazil, as Costas mentioned, presents an array of issues. From Zika to crime to violence to pollution, Rio is not the safest place to be right now. The Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5, in fact, will be on tape delay.
“Well, the Opening Ceremony on tape delay is not a big deal,” Costas said. “The Opening Ceremony is not a competition, so you’re not withholding results from anybody. We try to present every bit of it live, but it does need a little shaping, a little editing here and there in order to be the best possible television production. Nothing that is consequential will be left out, and so, tape delaying that is not a big deal. Everything else, although it may be tape-delayed in some cases in prime time, everything else in terms of competition can be seen somewhere live streamed or one one of the many NBC platforms. Plus, a lot of what is actually in prime time will be live because there’s only a one-hour time difference between Rio and the Eastern part of the United States. So in that respect, I think those complaints are going to be muted. I don’t have any real problem with a slight delay.”
NBC, to its credit, will air an hour-long prime-time special the night before the Olympics examining Rio’s array of issues.
“We’re not going to hide from it,” Costas said. “We’re not going to bury our heads in the sands of Copacabana Beach. We’re going to acknowledge it. We’re going to say this is the backdrop against which these Olympics take place, and then once we’ve done that, we’ll have our fingers crossed that these issues don’t intrude on the Games and that we can mostly focus on the drama and the competition and the things that expel really want to see. But if those issues do impact the games as they go on, we’ll go back to it and deal with it.”
Tiki Barber asked Bob Costas if he is personally worried about going to Brazil.
“I think you have to be concerned,” Costas said. “There are security issues. We at NBC are less likely to be affected directly by some of the other issues – the sanitation in the water, the Zika virus and that sort of thing. But you have to be aware and take the proper precautions. Where my concerns are also is I’ve got to be informed. There could be a moment at which I’ll have to pivot from being a sports anchor into part of NBC’s news operation. It’s now like 1972 when, in Munich, that tragedy unfolded and Jim McKay distinguished himself with his combination of journalism and humanity. At that time, ABC Sports was all the world had to rely on. The other networks did’t have the capability of sending anything out. CNN didn’t exist. The Internet didn’t exist. Even much of ABC News wasn’t there. So Jim McKay was the only source. Now I would be among many people, but still, I’d be part of it. So in addition to learning platform divers and gymnasts and sprinters, I’m trying to familiarize myself as much as possible with the geopolitics and all the security apparatus there just in case I have to respond to that.”