Northern Ireland’s star golfer Rory McIlroy on Wednesday decided to pull out of the Olympics Games in Rio in August over the threat of the Zika virus, dealing a blow to the sport making a return to the quadrennial event after 1904.
The world No.4 was set to represent Ireland in Rio as golf returns to the Games after a 112-year absence, but revealed last month he was monitoring the situation in Brazil following his engagement to Erica Stoll and Zika’s links to defects in newborn babies.
The mosquito-borne virus has been linked to brain defects in newborn babies.
McIlroy is one of a number of high-profile golfers to pull out with Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman and Vijay Singh having already said they will not compete in the event scheduled for August 5 to 21.
“After much thought and deliberation, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” McIlroy 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,” the 27-year-old added.
“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.”
Speaking last month, the four-time Major winner hinted that he would become an Olympian in August after researching the threat of the illness.
McIlroy announced in May 2014 that he had decided to play for Ireland and not Great Britain at the Rio Games.
McIlroy added: “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.”
The Olympic Council of Ireland expressed its disappointment with the decision of McIlroy, who was a top gold medal prospect.
“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,” OCI said on its website.
“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.”