Saturday 14 December 2019

Rory McIlroy's Zika concerns deal further blow to golf's Olympic return

Golf's controversial Olympic tournament has suffered its biggest blow yet following the withdrawal of four-time major winner Rory McIlroy.

Northern Ireland's world number four became the latest high-profile player to make himself unavailable for this summer's Games in Rio as he pulled out on Wednesday citing concerns over the Zika virus.

He follows Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman and Vijay Singh in withdrawing over the matter while Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott are missing the event for scheduling and family issues.

Golf's presence in the Games has already attracted criticism in the wider sporting world, as the game is not short of its own high-profile events, and McIlroy's decision brings more unwanted negative publicity.

A statement from the International Golf Federation, the sport's Olympic governing body, read: "The IGF is disappointed with Rory's decision but recognises that some players will have to weigh personally a unique set of circumstances as they contemplate their participation in golf's historic return to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, with the Zika virus foremost among them.

"It is unfortunate that the Zika virus has led to Rory's decision to withdraw from the Olympic Games, knowing how much he was looking forward to taking part.

"As we have stated before, the Olympics is the world's greatest celebration of sport and we remain excited about golf's return after a 112-year absence.

"It will truly be a special occasion for our sport and we are confident that the 60 men and 60 women who will represent their respective countries will find it an experience they will cherish forever."

McIlroy had been due to represent Ireland although he is also eligible for Great Britain. He had previously expressed concerns over Zika but appeared to be leaning towards playing until making his announcement.

Fears over Zika, a mosquito-borne virus which has been linked to birth defects in babies, have dominated the build-up to Rio 2016.

The World Health Organisation declared an outbreak of Zika, which was prevalent in Brazil, to be a global emergency in February but its latest advice considers the risks at the Olympics to be "very low".

McIlroy has acknowledged this but nevertheless feels he is unable to compete.

The 27-year-old said in a statement: "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."

Ireland's team leader in Rio, Paul McGinley, the former Europe Ryder Cup captain, was disappointed but respects McIlroy's decision.

McGinley told Sky Sports News: "As much as I'm disappointed like all Irish people are, you have to respect his decision not to play.

"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."

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