LONDON • Golfer Rory McIlroy delivered a blow to Ireland's hopes of an Olympic medal yesterday, when he said he would not be going to August's Rio de Janeiro Games over fears of the Zika virus.
"After much thought and deliberation, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro," the four-time Major champion said in a statement.
"After speaking with those closest to me, I've come to realise that my health and my family's health come 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."
He was present at the Euro 2016 football match between his native Northern Ireland and Germany in Paris on Tuesday.
TOO MUCH OF A RISK
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.
RORY MCILROY, world No. 4 golfer, explaining his Olympic withdrawal.
The decision by McIlroy - the latest of several Major winners to announce they would not go to the Games despite golf returning to the quadrennial sports extravaganza for the first time since 1904 - left the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) dejected.
"The OCI is extremely disappointed not to be taking Rory with us to Rio," read a statement from the Council, whose president is IOC executive board member Pat Hickey.
"However, as we have always said, it is down to the individual and of course we respect his decision."
Irish golf team captain Paul McGinley said McIlroy would have been a certain pick for the Games but fully understood the reasoning behind the player's withdrawal.
"It's not for me to influence his decision, it's a health decision he has discussed with his family and wife-to-be," McGinley told Irish national broadcaster RTE.
Replacing McIlroy, who had initially said he would play for Ireland and not Britain at the Games, will probably be his Ryder Cup team-mate and fellow Northern Irishman Graham McDowell.
The higher-ranked Shane Lowry, who led the US Open at Oakmont going into the final round last Sunday, is another who could represent Ireland in Rio.
McIlroy, who is engaged to American Erica Stoll, is the latest high-profile golfer to pull out.
Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman and Vijay Singh have already said they will not travel to Brazil.
American star Jordan Spieth has said he still intends to go, although he added last week that the situation could change as his health outweighs that of being an Olympian.
Masters champion Danny Willett, whose wife Nicole gave birth to their first child at the end of March, said he is excited about playing at the Olympic Games for Britain, but would not go if his family's health was at risk.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS