Zika virus has In Bee concerned ahead of Olympics

World No. 2 Park In Bee is one of the favourites for the golf gold at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro but she has cast doubt on her participation because of the Zika virus epidemic in Brazil.

The seven-time Major winner married her swing coach Nam Gi Hyub in October 2014 and has plans to start a family in the next few years.

But with warnings about how the mosquito-borne virus is suspected of causing birth defects in women who are infected, the South Korean is naturally cautious.

In a travel advisory released last Friday, the United States' Centres for Disease Control and Prevention issued special precautions for pregnant women who intend to travel to Brazil, as well as for women trying to become pregnant and men with pregnant partners.

It added that the outbreak in Brazil was "dynamic" and such measures were necessary as the "Zika virus infection in a pregnant woman is linked to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and miscarriage".

Park, 27, said at yesterday's HSBC Women's Champions press conference: "I don't exactly know what the Zika virus does to you... how long it stays in your body and how it affects it.

"I'm going to have to learn and talk to my doctor a few months before and find out exactly what's going on and if it is a dangerous situation or not."

She won five times last year on the LPGA Tour, including two Majors - the KPMG Women's PGA Championship and the British Open, with the latter allowing her to complete the career Grand Slam - and has established herself as South Korea's leading player.

This is the first time that golf has featured at the Olympics since 1904 and the quest for a Games gold in the sport has captivated the nation, which has seven players inside the world's top 15 and will be heavily favoured at the Rio 2016 Olympic Golf Course.

Competition for spots - limited to a maximum of four per country - at the Aug 17-20 strokeplay tournament is fierce though Park clearly has other concerns.

She said: "I've heard about the Zika virus but I just don't know how the situation will be in six months.

"Hopefully it doesn't get any worse, especially for me as I have to get pregnant in a couple of years. It's definitely a concern."

Top-ranked Lydia Ko, 18, echoed those sentiments but voiced her confidence that the athletes' health was the paramount concern for organisers.

Said the New Zealander: "That is a little bit of worry at the back of our minds but I'm pretty sure the LPGA and the other tours and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are going to do their best to handle it.

"If it gets worse, they're not going to make us go there."

One golfer determined to make the trip is world No. 9 Feng Shanshan, 26, of China.

She said: "I've waited for the Olympics for seven years (the IOC voted to include golf in the programme in 2009) and I've always dreamt about playing in it.

"Finally it's only six months away so I don't think anything is going to stop me from going."

Jonathan Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'Zika virus has In Bee concerned ahead of Olympics'. Print Edition | Subscribe