SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia’s world number one Jason Day and Ireland’s Shane Lowry on Tuesday became the latest golfers to withdraw from the Rio Olympics because of fears over the Zika virus.
“It is with deep regret I announce that I will not be competing in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games this coming August in Rio de Janeiro,” Day said in a statement.
“The reason for my decision is my concerns about the possible transmission of the Zika virus and the potential risks that it may present to my wife’s future pregnancies and to future members of our family.”
The 28-year-old was later joined by US Open runner-up Lowry, ranked 25th in the world. Lowry, 29, who got married this year, said he felt he would be putting his future family plans at risk and based his decision on “firm medical advice”.
The pair join the likes of Northern Ireland duo Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell – both down to compete for Ireland, Fiji’s Vijay Singh, Marc Leishman of Australia and South Africa’s Branden Grace in announcing their intentions not to compete at the Games starting on Aug 5.
The threat of the mosquito-borne virus, which can lead to birth defects, has been cited as the reason for withdrawal by a number of golfers, as the sport returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.
“I have always placed my family in front of everything else in my life,” said Day, who has a four-year-old son Dash, and seven-month-old daughter Lucy.
“Medical experts have confirmed that while perhaps slight, a decision to compete in Rio absolutely comes with health risks to me and to my family.
“My wife Ellie and I have been blessed with two wonderful and healthy children and our plan is to have more.
“While it has always been a major goal to compete in the Olympics on behalf of my country, playing golf cannot take precedent over the safety of our family.
“I will not place them at risk. I hope all golf and Olympics fans respect and understand my position.”
Day, who won his first major tournament at the 2015 PGA Championship, has ten career titles including this year’s Players Championship, World Golf Championships Match Play and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Lowry, who had been in pole position to win his first major title at the US Open in Oakmont but finished joint second, said he felt he would be putting his “family’s health at risk by being in Brazil at the current time”.
“Wendy and I have just recently married and we hope to be lucky enough to have a family in the near future. Based on these circumstances I have received firm medical advice that I should not travel to Rio this summer.”
Lowry added he had “not taken the decision lightly and it has been a source of much anguish for me over the past week.
“I am a very proud Irishman and I love my country. Hence, I was really looking forward to walking out behind the Tricolour with the rest of the Irish Olympic team in Rio.
“While I am bitterly disappointed to be missing out on that experience and the opportunity to win an Olympic medal for Ireland, on this occasion I have to put my family’s welfare first.”
The World Health Organisation’s emergency committee on the disease has said there is a “very low risk” of the Zika virus spreading further internationally as a result of the Olympic Games in Brazil.