Rory McIlroy announced Wednesday morning that he has officially withdrawn his name from golf’s return to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, citing health risks over the Zika virus. The world no. 4 golfer would have been one of two golfers representing Ireland, but McIlroy and his fiancee, Erica Stoll, plan to start a family in the near future, and Zika has been linked to birth defects among newborns.
Here’s McIlroy’s statement
“After much thought and delibration, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“After speaking with those closest to me, I’ve come to realise 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.
“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.”
I can’t say I’m surprised, nor do I blame McIlroy one bit. Even if the threat of Zika is low, golfers are probably the most exposed athletes as they are outside in the wilderness basically for 6-7 hours a day (at a minimum). And if you’re young and planning on starting a family in the near future, there’s just not point to risk it.
“The IGF is disappointed with Rory’s decision but recognises some players will have to weigh personally a unique set of circumstances as they contemplate their participation in golf’s historic return to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, with the Zika virus foremost among them,” said the IGF in a statement.
“It is unfortunate that the Zika virus has led to Rory’s decision to withdraw from the Olympic Games, knowing how much he was looking forward to taking part. As we have stated before, the Olympics is the world’s greatest celebration of sport and we remain excited about golf’s return after a 112-year absence. It will truly be a special occasion for our sport and we are confident that the 60 men and 60 women who will represent their respective countries will find it an experience they will cherish forever.”
I’ve been getting tweets and emails with all sorts of conspiracy theories, but calm down, people, McIlroy has no hidden agenda here. At the end of the day, he’s done enough research and I’m sure his fiancee has, as well, and she probably doesn’t want him to go, so they likely made a decision together. From my understanding, Zika is more dangerous for men than women as less is known about how long it stays in a male’s system. But for women, as long as they’re not pregnant or plan on getting knocked up within the next few months of visiting Rio (or other countries where it’s a risk), they should be fine. Like I said, even if it’s a slim chance, the words “birth defects” are enough to cause anyone to skip the trip.
Many speculate that McIlroy’s withdrawal will cause a flurry of other players to remove their names from consideration, as well. England’s Danny Willett and America’s Rickie Fowler have both publicly express doubt and concerns about their Olympic participation, with Fowler citing ZIka and security as his main issues. Those are serious anxieties to have. If not ZIka, then definitely security.
“I’d love to have the opportunity to go down there, but we don’t know for sure yet,” said Fowler.
From what I’ve heard from those who are required to attend the Olympics in Rio because of of their jobs, especially women, it sounds like an absolute nightmare. One woman told me that she’s received memos that state even if you see an “official shuttle,” you shouldn’t get into the vehicle unless you’re accompanied by at least two men that you know. Holy crap, it’s like you need to bring at least a taser with you for protection! I know we’re really soft as golf journalists, but those types of concerns don’t usually go along with our job description.
Meanwhile, Jordan Spieth accused a reporter of “putting words into my mouth” during his press conference at last week’s U.S. Open, when it was stated as a fact that he had planned to participate in the Olympics. While the world no. 2 didn’t say he was withdrawing his name from consideration, he also didn’t firmly state that he was planning on attending with absolute certainty and was looking into the situation.
Jason Day, who is another big name expected to pull out, says he has’t made a decision yet about playing in the Olympics, but he understands McIlroy’s plan to skip the trip to Rio in golf’s supposed big return to the games for the first time in 112 years.
“I respect his decision because obviously it’s a tough one going from trying to represent your country and trying to win a gold medal, but also understanding that it’s a life decision that you have to make just in case, there’s a small percentage that (contracting the Zika virus will) happen,” Day said Wednesday at Baltsurol Golf Club for the PGA Championship media day, where he’ll attempt to defend his title next month.
To be honest, I expect Day to pull out of the Olympics before McIlroy instead of the other way around. While Day says publicly he has yet to make a decision whether he’ll play for Australia or not, he believes McIlroy’s decision is “understandable.”
“It’s a decision that some people aren’t willing to take,” Day said. “I haven’t made a decision yet because obviously I just finished the U.S. Open. Then obviously this (news about McIlroy) came out this morning. So I knew this was going to be a hot topic today
“I’ll talk to Bud [Martin, my agent] and family members because family for me is priority No. 1, so I want to make sure that they’re happy and then from there I’ll make a decision.”
Well, that said, I highly doubt Day will be participating in the Olympics. Let’s just say I have a strong hunch based on conversations inside his camp.
When the floor was open for questions from the media, the first one was about McIlroy’s decision and whether Day had made up his mind yet. Day cracked a joke about how reporters didn’t even wait one or two questions before jumping right into the hot topic.
Though Day’s status for the Olympics is still supposedly up in the air, he did confirm that he will partner with Adam Scott for the World Cup of Golf, which begins Nov. 24 at Kingston Heath in Melbourne, Australia. He is also thinking about playing in the Australian Open.
Scott, the world no. 8, already removed his name from consideration, citing scheduling conflicts — which is also understandable since the remaining two majors occur in three weeks, with one week off before Rio, followed by three straight weeks of tournaments for the FedExCup Playoffs. That schedule sounds absolutely miserable and a recipe for burning out and serious exhaustion.
South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel also will not participate in the Olympics, along with Vijay Singh of Fiji. Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and Marc Leishman of Australia have also stated their intention to not make the trip to Rio.
Only four of the top 10 players in the world have firmly stated their intention to participate in the Olympics: Americans Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and England’s Justin Rose.