Rory McIlroy feels playing in this summer’s Olympics is not worth the risk after announcing his withdrawal due to concerns over the Zika virus.
The world No 4, who was due to represent Ireland in Rio in August, has become the latest high-profile golfer to say he will not travel to Brazil.
He follows Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman, and Vijay Singh in pulling out over the Zika issue, which has cast a shadow over the build-up to the Games.
Four-time major winner McIlroy, 27, said in a statement: “After much thought and deliberation, 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 realise 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.
“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 endeavour to make my fans and fans of golf proud with my play on the course and my actions off it.”
Zika is carried by mosquitoes and has been linked to defects in babies.
The World Health Organisation declared the Zika epidemic to be a global emergency in February but its latest advice is that the risk of international spread as a result of the Olympics is “very low”.
The International Olympic Committee, acting on WHO advice and with Brazilian authorities, is confident the situation is safe. The Games also take place during the South American winter, when there should be fewer mosquitoes.
Despite that, pregnant women have been advised not to travel to Brazil.
Concern among golfers has been high with world number six Rickie Fowler also casting doubt over his participation recently.
With two other major winners in Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott having withdrawn for family and scheduling reasons, it is a blow for golf as it returns to the Games for the first time since 1904.
McIlroy had pledged his allegiance to Ireland having also been eligible for Great Britain.
Ireland’s team leader Paul McGinley, the former Europe Ryder Cup captain, told Sky Sports: “As much as I’m disappointed like all Irish people are, you have to respect his decision not to play.
“I think it is a great opportunity for golf to come back into the Olympics and showcase the game around the world but ultimately each individual has to have their own view, and it is not up to me to get involved when it comes to something like health concerns.”
The situation concerning Zika in Brazil will continue to be monitored by the IOC but Dr David Heymann, chairman of the WHO’s emergency committee on the virus, said last week: “The committee concluded that there is a very low risk of further international spread of Zika virus as a result of the Olympics and Paralympics, which is already low.”
Meanwhile, former world number one Tiger Woods has not yet ruled himself out of any upcoming tournaments but admits he is currently unable to manage the physical demands of regular, competitive golf.
The 40-year-old, who has not played since August after undergoing surgery on his back, said he is not fit enough to play four consecutive days.
Troon hosts the Open in three weeks and while Woods has not publicly ruled out making an appearance, it seems highly unlikely.
“I’m just playing it week to week and I keep getting better. I keep getting physically better. I just hope that everything clicks in and I can do it sooner rather than later.
“I’m excited about what’s transpired so far. It’s about trying to recover for the next day. I guess I still need to get in golf shape.
“It’s about four, five days in a row. It’s about me playing 36 holes daily, getting up to speed and playing.
“I just need to get to where strength-wise I can handle the workload of playing out here on a weekly basis, practising after round, not having to go ice my back and all that kind of stuff.
“I’m not quite there yet. I’m trying to get there, I’m trying to get there as fast as I can, but I’m trying to do it right at the same time.
“As you know, I’ve pushed through a lot of injuries and rehabs before. I’m trying to do it correctly.”
What is it?
Rory McIlroy has decided not to compete at this summer’s Olympics in Rio due to fears over the Zika virus. Here are some facts about the disease:
What is Zika?
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus which was first identified in rhesus monkeys in Uganda in 1947 and moved to humans in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania in 1952.
How is the virus transmitted?
It is spread by the Aedes mosquito, which usually bites during the day. Zika can also be transmitted from person to person through sexual contact.
What does Zika do?
The main concern from Zika is the threat to babies in the womb. Zika is now known to be a cause of microcephaly, where babies are born with abnormally small heads due to the fact their brains have not developed properly. Microcephaly can cause serious developmental problems and death in some cases.
What are the symptoms of Zika?
The majority of people show no sign of infection and for those who do display symptoms they are usually mild and last two to seven days. Symptoms include fever, itching, conjunctivitis, red and sore eyes, headaches, rashes and joint pain.
What can people do to protect themselves?
There is currently no vaccine against Zika. The best protection is to take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Official health advice says people should use insect repellents, cover up with long-sleeved clothing and keep windows and doors closed. Still water and stagnant water such as in buckets and ponds also attracts mosquitoes to lay their eggs.
Which countries are affected?
Outbreaks of the disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. So far 64 countries and territories have reported occurrences of the virus since 2007. There is currently widespread transmission in much of Central and South America, including Brazil which has “increasing or widespread transmission”.
What is the current travel advice?
It is recommended that pregnant women should postpone non-essential travel to countries with an active and established Zika virus transmission until after pregnancy. In addition, women should avoid becoming pregnant while travelling in an area with active Zika virus transmission, and for 28 days after their return.
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