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Backlash as Zika fear Rory McIlroy pulls out of Rio Olympics

By Cate McCurry

Published 23/06/2016

Rory McIlroy and fiancee Erica Stoll stroll along a beach
Rory McIlroy and fiancee Erica Stoll stroll along a beach
Golf star Marc Leishman has already pulled out of the Rio Olympics
Golf star Adam Scott has already pulled out of the Rio Olympics

Rory McIlroy has faced an online backlash over his decision to pull out of the Rio Olympics over Zika virus fears.

But not everyone disagrees, with many fans rallying to his defence and hailing his decision as "brave".

The current world number four was set to represent Ireland at the Rio games.

The Holywood man issued a statement yesterday announcing that he would make himself unavailable for selection over his concerns about the Zika virus.

His shock decision has sparked speculation that the sportsman is planning to start a family with his fiancée Erica Stoll in the near future.

There have been widespread reports that the pair are planning to tie the knot this New Year's Eve at the couple's favourite five-star hotel - Ashford Castle in Co Mayo.

Last month McIlory expressed his concerns on the long-term effects of the Zika virus which is carried by mosquitoes and has been linked to defects in newborns.

The golfer released a statement saying that after "much thought and deliberation" he is withdrawing his name for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero.

"After speaking with those closest to me, I've come to realise that my health and my family's health comes before anything else," the Co Down star said.

"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 will continue to endeavour to make my fans and fans of golf proud with my play on the course and my actions off it."

McIlroy is the most high-profile golfer so far to pull out of the Olympics but he follows in the wake of Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Vijay Singh, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

The World Health Organisation declared the Zika epidemic to be a global emergency in February but its latest advice is that the risk of international spread as a result of the Olympics is "very low".

Doctors say the main concern over the virus is for women who become pregnant. The virus has been linked to microcephaly, whereby the baby is born with an abnormally small head.

Some fans of the golfing star have hit out at his decision online with one accusing him of "looking for an excuse" while others dubbed it a "convenient out".

However, others disagreed and praised him for "putting his wife-to-be and future children first".

The Olympic Council of Ireland said they were "extremely disappointed" not to be taking Rory to Rio.

A spokesman said: "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 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."

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