Rio Olympics: Rory McIlroy Pulls Out Due To Fears Over Zika Virus – How Many More Will Follow?

Rory McIlroy has announced that he is pulling out of the Rio Olympics due to concerns over the Zika virus. Although he had said a few months ago that his concerns over the virus had eased, his views have now changed. McIlroy was set to represent Ireland at the 2016 summer Olympics where golf is being played as part of the games for the first time in 112 years. In his statement he said that his and his family’s health comes first.

“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 joins a growing list of other big name golfers that have already announced that they will not be traveling to Rio for the Olympics. Vijay Singh and Marc Leishman had already pulled out citing the Zika virus as the reason. Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion announced in April that he would not be attending the games because of his busy playing schedule, and Louis Oosthuizen will also not be going due to family and scheduling issues. Charl Schwartzel is also not attending, although no specific reason was given.

Golf certainly isn’t the only sport that has seen top athletes reveal that they wouldn’t be heading to the Rio Olympics. Stephen Curry, the NBA MVP announced earlier this month that he would be skipping the games in order to focus on getting healthy for the 2016/2017 NBA season. NBA players Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul will not be going because of injuries. Tennis players John Isner, Bernard Tomic and Feliciano Lopez won’t be attending due to their busy schedules, and Dominic Thiem pulled out but did not give a reason. Cyclist Tejay van Garderen will not be attending because his wife his currently pregnant and he doesn’t want to take a chance with the Zika virus. In addition, Today show anchor Savannah Guthrie announced that she would not be attending to cover the games because she is expecting her second child and could not take the risk.

While other sports may see more players pull out before the Rio Olympics begin, golf has more on the line than most of the others. The agreement to see the sport return to the Olympics is only valid through the 2020 games, so these big names withdrawing could result in golf not being added back to the games after that. The vote to decide whether the popular sport will stay after 2020 happens after the 2016 Olympics have finished.

Part of the reason so many big name golfers are pulling out of the Rio Olympics, is because the timing is not great. The U.S. Open just happened last weekend and players have the Quicken Loans National tournament, the PGA Professional Championship, the Bridgestone Invitational, World Golf Championship, and the British Open all before the Olympics. There won’t be time to rest afterwards, either, since the FedEx Cup Playoffs start one week later. Since only the top players in the world are eligible to participate in golf at the Olympics and amateurs are not eligible, an added pressure is put on the players that would ordinarily play in all or most of these other tournaments.

rory mcilroy rio olympics
Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Open [Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images]

With McIlroy pulling out, there is concern that other big names will quickly follow suit and withdraw from the Rio Olympics. He is seen as the “alpha dog” according to CBS News, and the likelihood that others will see that McIlroy isn’t going and take his lead, is a strong one. As a result of all of this uncertainty, golf’s return to the Olympics may not be as successful as was once envisioned.

[Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images]