Golfer Rory McIlroy became one of the most high-profile sports stars to opt out of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because of concerns about the Zika virus, saying yesterday it is “a risk I am unwilling to take.”
“After speaking with those closest to me, I’ve come to realize that my health and my family’s health comes before anything else,” the four-time major winner said in a statement released by his management company.
The 27-year-old McIlroy said this month that he and his fiancee, Erica Stoll, may consider starting a family “in the next couple of years.”
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus which has been linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological problems in adults.
“Even though the risk of infection from the Zika virus is considered low, it is a risk nonethelessand a risk I am unwilling to take,” said McIlroy.
The fourth-ranked McIlroy was scheduled to play for Ireland as golf makes its return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.
The Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) said it was “extremely disappointed” not to have McIlroy on its team.
“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 said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell today rejected the chance to replace McIlroy on the Irish Olympic team.
While McIlroy cited concerns about the Zika virus, McDowell said he decided months ago not to leave the U.S. while his wife expects their second child.
McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champ, said his wife, Kristin, was due to give birth “just a couple of weeks” after the Olympic golf ends Aug. 20.
“I made the decision many months ago, before I was on the team, that I would not play or travel outside the U.S., where my family and I live, in the weeks running up to the birth,” McDowell said in a statement on his Twitter account.
“Unfortunately, I will therefore not be available to replace Rory on the team.”
The International Golf Federation responded to the latest Olympic setback by saying it recognizes the “unique circumstances for Graeme and his family.”
Next in line for Irish selection for the first Olympic golf competition since 1904 is three-time major champion Padraig Harrington.
Marc Leishman of Australia and Charl Schwartzel of South Africa are golfers to have already pulled out of the Olympic tournament specifically because of Zika.
Leishman cited concerns over the health of his famil—his wife, Audrey, nearly died last year from toxic shock syndrome—while Schwartzel has said he and his wife intend to have more children and the risk of getting the virus is too great.
American cyclist Tejay van Garderen is another sportsman to cite Zika as the reason behind not going to Rio.
Basketball star Stephen Curry has dropped out of the games, not specifically citing Zika but noting that “other factors” played a role in the decision.
Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, and Vijay Singh are other golfers to also have said they won’t compete at Rio, mostly due to scheduling commitments.
This might not be the last of golfers to pull out.
Jason Day, the No. 1 player in the world, earlier this month began to raise doubts that he would go to Rio because of Zika.
They have two children, and he said his wife wants more.
“I don’t think it’s an Olympic issue. I don’t think it’s a Rio issue,” Day said at the Memorial.
“I just think it’s a medical issue attached to what happens if I go there, get it, and bring it back.
“I’ve just got to make a smart, educated decision whether to go or not,” he stressed.