Rory McIlroy withdrew from the Rio Olympics because of his concerns over the Zika virus Wednesday, a disappointing decision for a sport that is returning to the Games after a 112-year absence.
The 27-year-old golfer from Northern Ireland noted in making the announcement that the risk of infection is considered low, but “is a risk nonetheless and a risk I am unwilling to take” now that he is engaged to Erica Stoll, with whom he has said he intends to start a family in the near future.
“After much thought and deliberation, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero,” McIlroy, who had said he would play for Ireland and not Britain in the Games, said in a statement released Wednesday. “After speaking with those closest to me, I’ve come to realize 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 endeavor to make my fans and fans of golf proud with my play on the course and my actions off it.”
In the first two major tournaments of 2016, McIlroy finished in a tie for 10th in the Masters in April and missed the cut in the U.S. Open last weekend. His decision to skip Rio is a blow to the sport, with Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman and Vijay Singh also choosing not to compete in Brazil.
Last month, McIlroy said he had researched Zika and was “ready to play. I feel like the advice I’ve sought out over the past 10 days has put my mind at ease and makes me more comfortable going down there knowing that, even if I do contract Zika, it’s not the end of the world. It takes six months to pass through your system and you’re fine.”
He is choosing to stay away altogether, but athletes who will compete in Rio have said they will take unusual measures ranging from having their sperm frozen ahead of the games to Spain’s decision to ship 3,000 bottles of insect repellant to Brazil.
Ireland’s Olympic governing body said that it was “extremely disappointed not to be taking Rory with us to Rio” but added that it “respected his decision.”
“The [Olympic Committee of Ireland] and our medical team have taken our lead from the International Olympic Committee on the Zika situation, as we do in all matters,” it said in a statement. “We are now following the IOC’s recommendations, as well as the recommendations of the Rio 2016 organisers, the World Health Organisation and national health authorities, to ensure that Team Ireland’s athletes are kept fully updated with the latest and best advice and that they are equipped to take all necessary precautions.”
The epicenter of Zika, which has been linked to a severe birth defect marked by unusually small heads and often underdeveloped brains, is Brazil. The virus is transmitted mainly by mosquitoes but also can be passed along by sexual contact and blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which also has been associated with paralysis and blindness.
Earlier this month, cyclist Tejay van Garderen became the first American athlete to say he would skip Rio over Zika because his wife is pregnant.
Other athletes are considering whether to have sperm frozen ahead of the Games. Pau Gasol is considering taking that step if he decides to compete for Spain and the wife of Britain’s Greg Rutherford, the reigning Olympic long jump champion, said her husband will freeze sperm before heading to Brazil.
Susie Verrill, his wife, wrote in an article for Standard Issue that the couple plans to have children and she doesn’t “want to put myself in a situation which could have been prevented.”
Hope Solo, the goalie for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, said she would “begrudgingly” go to Rio. “I’m not sure I’m even going to be leaving the hotel room, outside of practice,” Solo, who will turn 35 in July and hopes to start a family soon with husband Jerramy Stevens, said in May. The U.S. women are coming off last year’s World Cup title and have won three straight Olympic gold medals. That’s a driving force for Solo, who was the starting goalkeeper for the Americans in the last two Games. Still, like every athlete who has trained for years for this Olympics, she faces a serious decision.
“I strongly believe that no athlete should be put into this position — to decide between your Olympic dreams and your own health,” Solo said.