The golfer called Zika infection a risk he was "unwilling to take."

By Alison Mango
June 22, 2016
2016 Getty Images
| Credit: Getty Images

One of the world's top golfers has opted out of the Olympics due to health concerns over Zika. Rory McIlroy, who is currently ranked no. 4 and planned to compete for Ireland, announced his decision in a statement: "After much thought and deliberation, 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 realize that my health and my family's health comes before anything else," he said, referring to the Zika virus, which can be sexually transmitted and has been linked to severe birth defects. "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."

McIlroy's withdrawal is significant, considering this summer will mark golf's return to the Olympics after a 112-year absence. But McIlroy isn't the only high-profile golfer to decide against traveling to Brazil this summer. Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman, and Vijay Singh have all pulled out of the games, ESPN reports.

In response to McIlroy's decision, the International Golf Federation (IGF) released a statement: "The IGF is disappointed with Rory's decision but recognises that 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."

Earlier this month a top American cyclist, Tejay van Garderen, removed his name from consideration for a spot on the United States Olympic Team. His wife is currently pregnant and he doesn't want to risk any complications, he said in an interview with Cycling Tips.

Other athletes are taking special precautions. Greg Rutherford, a British long jumper, will have his sperm frozen before traveling to Brazil, his partner, Susie Verill, revealed in an article for Standard Issue. "We’d love to have more children and with research in its infancy, I wouldn’t want to put myself in a situation which could have been prevented," she wrote.

Olympic officials continue to try to allay fears over the virus. The AP reported that at a news conference on June 10, Brazil's health minister, Ricardo Barros, said the the risk of Zika spreading during the games is "almost zero."