Liam Morgan

The Olympic Games are considered the pinnacle of any athlete’s career by many, but for some, an appearance on the grandest stage of them all barely tops their ever-growing list of priorities.

While there is no right or wrong opinion in the age-old debate about where merely competing at the Games or earning a podium finish should rank among a competitor’s achievements, the attitude that is voiced most strongly is that a sport shouldn’t even feature at the quadrennial showpiece if winning Olympic gold doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

It goes without saying that an Olympic title wouldn’t be the crowning point of a professional footballer’s career, while boxers often use the event as a stepping stone to go on to bigger and better things.

Adam Scott, the fiery Australian golfer, perhaps didn’t realise the can of worms he had opened when he made ill-advised comments that he may choose to skip competing at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where his sport will make an historic return to the programme after a 112-year absence, in favour of a spot of rest and recuperation.

“It's not really a priority of my scheduling next year and I'll still base my schedule around the majors,” Scott said. “Looking at the schedule some time off looks quite good actually.”

Aside from the sceptics, who may even wonder how much strain playing golf puts on the human body, his quotes suggest a certain apathy towards an event that encapsulates even the most vehement haters of sport and have been construed in some circles as disrespectful.

After all, across the globe athletes are battling for vital qualification points and places, busting a gut to do everything they can to secure a berth at the hallowed Olympic Games.

Our story on his comments, available here, sparked furious debate on Twitter from athletes and Olympic medallists, with British race walker Tom Bosworth providing the loudest voice of dissent. “This is why having golf in the Olympics is a joke. It is supposed to be ur (sic) sport’s pinnacle, no-one skips the Olympics,” he wrote.

Australian golfer Adam Scott caused controversy by suggesting he may skip the Olympics in favour of a rest
Australian golfer Adam Scott caused controversy by suggesting he may skip the Olympics in favour of a rest ©Getty Images

He wasn’t alone, either. Britain’s two-times Olympic judo medallist Neil Adams, also a world champion, weighed in with his own strong viewpoint, adding: “Who “skips” the Olympics? There are athletes literally starving to get a chance at it!”

These are just two examples of an opinion I am sure is widespread. The Olympics are often regarded as the zenith of sport, but Scott, winner of The Masters two years’ ago, remains unimpressed.

With all the passion, fervour and anticipation that goes with the Olympics as a concept, you would imagine he may think twice before uttering such sentiments in future, but this isn’t the first time he has found himself in hot water with the Olympic-loving public.

Back in May, he compared golf to an “exhibition sport”, before then going on to claim an Olympic gold had never really entered his thoughts, giving off the impression that he wasn’t fussed either way. It’s fair to say the phrase “he could take it or leave it” is entirely appropriate in this instance.

The outspoken Aussie is, thus far, alone in his particular thoughts among the golfing fraternity. Fourteen-times major winner Tiger Woods, considered one of the game’s greats despite his career beginning to fade into the California sun, has previously said golf being on the Olympic Programme was “very important".

Irishman Padraig Harrington went one better, insisting that qualifying for next year’s extravaganza in the Brazilian city is at the top of his priorities, vowing that he would “love to be an Olympic athlete”.

So golf fans and the most ardent supporters of the Olympics in general can breathe a sigh of relief as Scott is just a loudmouth who is in the minority, right? Wrong, for this is not a new issue.

Irishman Padraig Harrington has previously said he would love to be an Olympic athlete
Irishman Padraig Harrington has previously said he would love to be an Olympic athlete ©Getty Images

Other sports, such as tennis, have wrestled and toyed with the value of the Olympics ever since it became fully established as a medal event on the programme at Seoul 1988, with some of the game’s greatest-ever competitors opting out of the event in the past.

American Pete Sampras, winner of 14 Grand Slam titles during an illustrious spell in the game which few come close to rivalling, turned his back on the 2000 Olympics in Sydney as the tournament fell just weeks after the US Open, one of the most prestigious events on the tour.

After suffering a shock early exit at Barcelona 1992, Sampras withdrew from Atlanta 1996 due to injury and never had the feeling of an Olympic medal, of any colour, being placed around his neck.

Big-serving compatriot Andy Roddick, who crashed out of Athens 2004 at the third round stage, followed suit ahead of Beijing 2008, as did French duo Amelie Mauresmo, a former world number one, and Marion Bartoli, runner-up at Wimbledon in 2007 and winner in 2013.

Other top names, including Lindsay Davenport, can see both sides of the coin. The American star called winning gold on home soil at Atlanta 1996 as her “coming-out” moment, and still ranks her Olympic title as one of her proudest achievements.

But even she chose not to travel to Athens eight years’ later in favour of undergoing intense preparation for the US Open.

That attitude does not seem to be the case this time around, however. Despite the tournament in Rio de Janeiro finishing just 15 days before the world’s top tennis stars descend on Flushing Meadows in New York for the 2016 edition of the annual US Open, no player has dared to come out and decline the opportunity to grace the Olympic arena when the Games come to the Brazilian city.

Two of the game's most top names, Andy Murray and Roger Federer, are perfect examples of how an Olympic tennis gold has enjoyed a resurgence in value.

The Swiss, who has repeatedly hinted at his regret in not having added an Olympic singles title to his vast trophy cabinet, will be more determined than ever when Rio 2016 arrives and has labelled next year’s Games as “a priority”. Murray on the other hand will be desperate to defend the crown he won by beating the indomitable Federer on the lush Centre Court grass at Wimbledon at London 2012.

Britain's Andy Murray still values his Olympic gold medal as one of the greatest achievements in his career
Britain's Andy Murray still values his Olympic gold medal as one of the greatest achievements in his career ©Getty Images

When the Scot claimed that breathtaking straight sets victory on that July afternoon, it represented the biggest success of his career at the time, before he went on to win the US Open just a month later and Wimbledon, the title he so desperately craved, the following year.

Interestingly, he claimed in a recent interview with British newspaper the Daily Express that he had watched his Olympic gold medal contest much more frequently than the Wimbledon final with Serbian Novak Djokovic, and he surely treasures the medal emblazoned with the London 2012 emblem equally to that of his two Grand Slam titles.

Is this because he achieved the feat on home soil or because the Games only come around once every four years? A bit of both, one would imagine, but nevertheless, it shows just how much an Olympic tennis medal can mean.

Despite some labelling pulling out of the Olympics or, like Scott, publicly announcing he may skip the event altogether, as disrespectful, it is difficult not to understand where the athletes are coming from. With regards to tennis, so often a brutal and body-hammering sport in which matches can last for up to five hours, the schedule is packed enough as it is. An extra event on the calendar could easily be seen as an inconvenience.

It is also imperative to point out here that athletes who win Olympic medals are not financially remunerated by the International Olympic Committee, yet the prize fund for golf’s majors and the Grand Slams in tennis, for example, continues to soar.

Of course, a large majority of top-level sportsmen and women earn far more from lucrative sponsorship contracts than actual prize money, and some will argue that the prestige of an Olympic medal should far exceed the need to be financially compensated for their efforts.

But for athletes in sports such as tennis and golf, standing top of the podium clasping a bunch of expensive flowers and belting out their national anthem will simply never be their main aspiration.

Thankfully, for those who disagree with the above sentiment, there remains the prospect that Scott may not even qualify for the golf tournament in Rio 2016.

Some might say that would serve him right.