DEBATE: Is Rory McIlroy right not to go to Rio?

Is Rory McIlroy right not to be going to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro because of the Zika virus? Or do you think he should play golf anyway, but take the necessary precautions? Síle Seoige and Suzanne Harrington debate this much discussed topic.

"The risk may be low, but there is a risk and after weighing up the pros and cons, the potential impact of contracting the virus was simply too great for me to ignore"

DEBATE: Is Rory McIlroy right not to go to Rio?

On Wednesday morning when I checked twitter, it seemed that every second tweet was about Rory McIlroy.

Did Rory use Zika as an excuse to get out of representing Ireland at the Olympics?

Or is the virus a genuine worry for him?

As a friend of mine jokingly but accurately says in relation to people making assumptions ‘Did you see it go in?’ Who are any of us to judge?

This is not about national pride or lack thereof; it’s an issue of personal health and safety.

I’ve had time and reason to research zika.

Since January I have been in talks regarding a TV project that would involve filming in beautiful Brazil. A trip I was really excited about and then news broke about the zika virus and it got me thinking and questioning.

In the end, knowing that I’m someone who gets ‘eaten alive’ by mosquitoes when I’m abroad even when I shower myself in DEET, as someone who has had experience of serious illness, and after consulting with a number of health experts, I took the decision not to travel.

The risk may be low, but there is a risk and after weighing up the pros and cons, the potential impact of contracting the virus was simply too great for me to ignore.

My health and wellbeing and of those I love is more important than anything else.

I don’t believe in living in fear. I’m a pragmatist.

One health professional I spoke to explained the difficulty in advising people on whether to travel or not, as there is so much misinformation on the infection and there is so much about it that is still unknown.

But zika has been linked to a serious birth condition, microcephaly, where the baby is born with an unusually small head. In cases of microcephaly, the baby’s brain may not have formed during pregnancy.

For anyone who displays symptoms of the virus the medical advice is to wait six months before trying to conceive.

But three out of four people infected with zika, have no symptoms at all.

Can we pause for a moment and take that in.

This is a virus which we still have no vaccination against.

It’s a virus which not alone puts you yourself at risk, but it also puts anyone who have sex with at risk.

Rory McIlroy is engaged, so who knows what he and his partner have planned.

Put yourself in the same situation.

I can understand that it would hit a nerve with certain people, particularly his fellow Irish athletes who have been working hard towards their Olympic dream.

But for the rest, the good ole Irish begrudgery was out in force on social media.

The ‘build them up to knock them down’ mentality at it’s best.

I fully accept that in a number of months the virus will probably have spread further, but until a cure has been found surely containing it as much as is possible is the only logical move.

Instead, we are sending the best athletes from across the globe to a country with the highest levels of the infection.

What happens when the games conclude? They go home. Do you see what is wrong with this scenario?

Rory is not the first athlete to refuse to travel to Rio because of the zika virus and I doubt he’ll be the last.

Instead of questioning his integrity, perhaps the question to ask is why are the Olympic games are still going ahead in a country that is marred by controversy?

What is right about bringing half a million visitors from around the world into the heart of an epidemic?

I think it’s irresponsible and dangerous.

If you were worried about mosquitoes, you’d never go anywhere. From irritating your ankles at sunset to killing you from malaria, they are apart of travel

DEBATE: Is Rory McIlroy right not to go to Rio?

So Rory McIlroy isn’t going to Rio.

“My health and my family’s health come before anything else,” said his statement primly.

Fears about the zika virus, apparently.

There have been about 1.5 million cases in Brazil so far, but they are mostly in the poorer north-east states of Bahia, Pernambuco, and Paraiba, where the zika-carrying mozzies hang out in stagnant water in overcrowded favelas and poor communities with crumbling infrastructure.

Not in the air-conditioned five- star palaces where celebrity athletes will be ensconced far further south in Rio.

But seriously — skipping the Olympics because you might get a mosquito bite? If you were worried about mosquitoes, you’d never go anywhere.

From irritating your ankles at sunset to killing you from cerebral malaria, they are a part of travel. You just take precautions. Or in my case, you don’t.

I have put myself in situations where — looking back — I wonder if I might have actually mistaken myself for a pirate, so gung ho was my approach to criss-crossing faraway lands without as much as a larium tablet or a bottle of DEET.

When I was Rory McIlroy’s age — 27 — I was in Brazil on an ancient overcrowded bus doing a 40-hour journey to Salvador, Bahia’s poor and dangerous capital, for carnival.

About 20 hours in, crossing a state line, medics in paper suits boarded the bus and proceeded to inject everyone on it for yellow fever.

When they got to me, I told them I’d already had my shot. (I hadn’t — I just didn’t fancy being injected on a public bus by men in paper suits. And guess what — I lived).

The only time I genuinely thought ‘yikes’ was on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia. Dropped off by a local fisherman, equipped with a week’s worth of food and water, and a promise of collection in seven days, there was no fast way off this island.

No phones, electricity from generators. And cerebral malaria. We had mozzie nets, mozzie repellant, and a belief that we’d be fine.

Until one morning crossing the island through its central jungle, a mozzie landed on my uncovered lower arm. Not an ordinary one, but one with white markings. The ones that carry cerebral malaria. It bit me. Was it a pregnant female? Not being a gynaecologist, I couldn’t tell. “Never mind,” said my sister.

“I have some emergency larium in my pack.” After a sleepless night waiting for death, I woke up alive — the mozzie must have been a chap, or infertile.

But on the day the fisherman came back for us, the owner of the island’s only beach shack — a young French guy who had fallen in love with the deserted paradise of the place, and made it his home — died of cerebral malaria right there on the island because he didn’t get to the mainland hospital on time. That sobered us up quite considerably.

Yet I have known people going to established tourist resorts like Goa, and necking anti-mosquito medication as though they were about to paddle up the Amazon, poisoning themselves unnecessarily.

Alternatively, I know families with small kids who have travelled for months in India with nothing more than a homeopathy kit — and they were all fine. I’ve had several months of dysentery in rural India because I once forgot to wash my hands.


So when you hear about sports stars not going to the Rio games — there are many more than McIlroy, although interestingly no female golfers have pulled out, despite the far worse risk zika poses to women — you might feel just the tiniest bit dismissive.

Zika fears? Really? Oh, man up.

If you were worried about mosquitoes, you’d never go anywhere. From irritating your ankles at sunset to killing you from malaria, they are a part of travel


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