Rory McIlroy has decided not to compete at this summer’s Olympics in Rio due to fears over the Zika virus.
The world No. 4, who had pledged his allegiance to Ireland for the Games, has announced in a statement he will not be available.
McIlroy is one of a number of high-profile golfers to pull out with Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman and Vijay Singh having already said they will not travel to Brazil, while world No.6 Rickie Fowler has also cast doubts.
McIlroy said 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 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. 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 endeavour to make my fans and fans of golf proud with my play on the course and my actions off it.”
The situation is a blow for the sport with golf returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1904. A statement from the Olympic Council of Ireland read: “The OCI is extremely disappointed not to be taking Rory with us to Rio.
“However, as we have always said, it is down to the individual and of course we respect his decision, which he has taken for personal reasons.
“Rory was set to be one of the big stars of Rio 2016, but now there is an opportunity for another Irish golfer to take up the chance to become an Olympian and participate in golf’s historic return to the Olympic Games after a 112-year absence.”
The International Golf Federation also released a statement on Wednesday: “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.
“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.”
Concerns about the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects, have cast a shadow over Rio 2016 but the International Olympic Committee, with guidance from the World Health Organisation, has resisted calls for the Games to be moved or postponed.
The OCI statement added: “The OCI and our medical team have taken our lead from the IOC on the Zika situation, as we do in all matters. They have provided us with every assurance and we have total confidence that the Games will be safe for all athletes.
“We are now following the IOC’s recommendations, as well as the recommendations of the Rio 2016 organisers, the World Health Organisation and national health authorities, to ensure that Team Ireland’s athletes are kept fully updated with the latest and best advice and that they are equipped to take all necessary precautions.
“The OCI is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring the welfare of Team Ireland’s athletes at Rio 2016.”