Rory McIlroy has announced he is withdrawing from the Rio Olympics.
The golfer, who was due to represent Ireland in this summer’s Games, released a statement this morning saying that attending was “a risk I am unwilling to take.”
McIlroy said: “I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“After speaking with those closest to me, I've come to realize that my health and my family's health comes before anything else. Even though the risk of infection from the Zika virus is considered low, it is a risk nonetheless and a risk I am unwilling to take.”
The Holywood golfer, who is engaged to Erica Stoll, had expressed concern previously about the virus and its potential impact on their plans to start a family. He asked for the understanding of fans regarding his withdrawal.
“I trust the Irish people will understand my decision. The unwavering support I receive every time I compete in a golf tournament at home or abroad means the world to me.
“I will continue to endeavor to make my fans and fans of golf proud with my play on the course and my actions off it.”
The Olympic Council of Ireland have expressed their disappointment at the news and insisted that their medical team was confident the Games would be safe for all athletes.
In a statement they said: The OCI is extremely disappointed not to be taking Rory with us to Rio. However, as we have always said, it is down to the individual and of course we respect his decision, which he has taken for personal reasons.
“The OCI and our medical team have taken our lead from the IOC on the zika situation, as we do in all matters. They have provided us with every assurance and we have total confidence that the Games will be safe for all athletes.
“We are now following the IOC’s recommendations, as well as the recommendations of the Rio 2016 organisers, the World Health Organisation and national health authorities, to ensure that Team Ireland’s athletes are kept fully updated with the latest and best advice and that they are equipped to take all necessary precautions.
“The OCI regularly updates the private Team Ireland app guidelines and we have held a number of sport seminars and workshops for team leaders, coaches and medical support staff. The OCI is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring the welfare of Team Ireland’s athletes at Rio 2016.”
The OCI also said McIlroy’s withdrawal would provide an opportunity for another Irish golfer.
“Rory was set to be one of the big stars of Rio 2016, but now there is an opportunity for another Irish golfer to take up the chance to become an Olympian and participate in golf’s historic return to the Olympic Games after a 112-year absence.”
Concerns about the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects, have cast a shadow over Rio 2016 but the International Olympic Committee, with guidance from the World Health Organisation, has resisted calls for the Games to be moved or postponed.
The WHO declared the Zika epidemic to be a global emergency in February but latest reports from the organisation regard the risks of international spread as a result of the Olympics as "very low".