Why Kenyan golfers should gear up for Rio despite Zika setback

Naomi Wafula during the National Ladies Legend Golf Day at Muthaiga Golf Club in January. PHOTO | FILE
Naomi Wafula during the National Ladies Legend Golf Day at Muthaiga Golf Club in January. PHOTO | FILE 

In more than 100 years, the sport of golf has not featured at the Olympic games. The last time golf was played at the Olympics was in 1904, 112 years ago.

In 2009 the International Olympics Committee (IOC) decided to include the sport in the Rio 2016 edition of the games. At the Olympics, golf will be played in a 72-hole individual stroke play format and ties will be decided via a three-hole playoff.

The golfers who will compete at Rio will be drawn from the top of the professional ranks, in a complicated system that ensures as many nations as possible are represented.

However, the initial joy of having golf at the Olympics has been dampened by news that some of the world’s top golfers will give the games a miss following concerns over the Zika virus.

Birth defects
To date, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Shane Lowry, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Graeme McDowell, the South African trio of Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel have all announced that they would not be going to Rio. McIlroy said he was unwilling to risk the future of his children by exposing himself to the Zika virus.

So, will our male Kenyan pros, many of them well past their child-bearing age, volunteer to replace the golf stars who have dropped off? You see for men, the virus has been found in the semen and research is inconclusive as to how long it can survive there.

In short, men travelling to Rio can get infected with the virus and transmit the same sexually to their partners, weeks, months perhaps years later and put their unborn babies at risk for microcephaly, a neurological birth defect. So, reproductively speaking, men, and not women, have more reason for concern after visiting Rio. And perhaps, this is the reason several male professional golfers have opted to skip Rio.

Inactive mosquitoes

Would the IOC consider filling in the slots with our aging Pros? From a reproductive perspective, many of them are grand parents unlikely to put any unborn child at risk!

According to the CNN website the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention in the US has warned women athletes not to take their husbands or boyfriends to Rio if they have intentions of having a baby soon after.

Officers from CDC said women were safe if they weren’t pregnant or had no intentions to get pregnant shortly after visiting Rio. The Zika virus survives in blood for only about 10 days, ridding women of the virus in total shortly after leaving Rio.

The US Olympic Committee has told athletes who are concerned about Zika to consider skipping the games, according to — a huge announcement for the Rio games.

Brazilian Health minister Ricardo Barros said the probability of athletes and visitors getting infected was almost zero, and the games would be held during winter, a time when mosquitoes are expected to be less active.

Back to golf. If top stars skip the games in Rio, the future of golf at the Olympics is bleak. Jordan Spieth, one of the rising golf stars is yet to decide on his participation. However, he avers that golf has already received a huge, perhaps mortal blow following the reduced participation by some of the world’s best pros.

But in every cloud is a silver lining — send the Kenyans I say, it is the Zika virus that has to be afraid!