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Brazil's largest children's hospital writes heartfelt open letter to Rory McIlroy over Zika virus fears after Olympic withdrawal

By Denise Calnan

South America's largest children's hospital has written a heartfelt open letter to Rory McIlroy following his decision to withdraw from the Rio Olympics.

Northern Ireland's world number four and four-time major winner made himself unavailable for this summer's Games in Rio over Zika virus concerns.

The letter, released by the chief executive officer of the Little Prince Children's Hospital, Brazil, addresses McIlroy and asks him to turn his "personal concerns" about the virus into a "practical concern".

The letter says: "Having withdrawn from the Rio Olympics, we ask you, with dignity and respect, to transform your personal concerns around Zika, into a practical concern in supporting our medical research scientists who are not only working to protect our own mothers and children, but in the long-term, all mothers and children throughout the world."

Fears over the mosquito-borne virus which has been linked to birth defects in babies, have dominated the build-up to Rio 2016.

The World Health Organisation declared an outbreak of Zika, which was prevalent in Brazil, to be a global emergency in February but its latest advice considers the risks at the Olympics to be "very low".

McIlroy acknowledged this but said he felt unable to compete.

The 27-year-old released a statement, saying: "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."

The letter from the hospital, whose patron is Brazil legendary footballer Pele, continues: "These are difficult days for the people of Brazil with the Zika virus adding to our challenges.

"We awoke on Wednesday last to learn of your decision to pull out of the Rio Olympic Games.

"The news reports say that you have done so because of personal concerns over the Zika virus. We understand your decision but, you too will understand our disappointment as many Brazilian people were looking forward to welcoming you to our beautiful country and the Olympic Games.

"We are certain too the people of Ireland are disappointed at your loss to the Irish Olympic team."

The hospital said they understand the reasons for McIlroy's withdrawal from the competition but said their "reality" is the "medical profession throughout Brazil still must deal with the threats posed by the Zika virus".

"We are not only fighting to contain and eliminate the virus, but we are also working desperately to stop it from spreading to Africa and Europe, and the rest of the world," they continued.

The letter concluded wishing McIlroy good health and said they look forward to his "positive response", before it is signed by CEO Jose Carneiro.

McIlroy follows Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman, Vijay Singh, Jason Day and Shane Lowry in withdrawing over Zika virus concerns while Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott are missing the event for scheduling and family issues.

Graeme McDowell, who would have been McIlroy's replacement in the Irish team, ruled himself out of travelling out of America while his wife is pregnant. She is due to give birth around the time of the games.

Golf's presence in the Games has already attracted criticism in the wider sporting world, as the game is not short of its own high-profile events, and McIlroy's decision brings more unwanted negative publicity.

A statement from the International Golf Federation, the sport's Olympic governing body, read: "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.

"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."

McIlroy had been due to represent Ireland at the Games.

He had previously expressed concerns over Zika but appeared to be leaning towards playing until making his announcement.

Little Prince Children's Hospital letter in full:

Dear Rory McIlroy,

These are difficult days for the people of Brazil with the Zika virus adding to our challenges.

We awoke on Wednesday last to learn of your decision to pull out of the Rio Olympic Games. The news reports say that you have done so because of personal concerns over the Zika virus. We understand your decision but, you too will understand our disappointment as many Brazilian people were looking forward to welcoming you to our beautiful country and the Olympic Games. We are certain too the people of Ireland are disappointed at your lose to the Irish Olympic team.

As you are aware, we wrote to you on 20 May 2016 with the support of our patron, Pelé, asking you to visit our hospital, the Little Prince Children's

Hospital, the biggest paediatric hospital in all of South America, during your visit to Brazil. We had hoped that you might consider, either before or after the Olympics, playing a game of golf to help our work. We are aware and full of admiration for your sense of social responsibility around sport. We applaud you for this.

While we understand your reasons for withdrawing from the Olympics, the reality for us is that the medical profession throughout Brazil still must deal with the threats posed by the Zika virus. We are not only fighting to contain and eliminate the virus, but we are also working desperately to stop it from spreading to Africa and Europe, and the rest of the world.

Through our European Ambassador, Don Mullan, we have already suggested that you might consider taking a lead in galvanising the sporting profession, beginning with your golfing fraternity, in supporting our medical researchers. Pele has given his name to our Medical Research Institute and both Pelé, as well as the children we serve, would appreciate your humanity and support.

Having withdrawn from the Rio Olympics, we ask you, with dignity and respect, to transform your personal concerns around Zika, into a practical concern in supporting our medical research scientists who are not only working to protect our own mothers and children, but in the long-term, all mothers and children throughout the world.

We hope it will be possible to welcome you to Brazil in the future. In the meantime, we wish you good health and we look forward, hopefully, to your positive response.

Yours sincerely,

Jose Carneiro

CEO Little Prince Hospital Complex

CEO Pele Little Prince Research Institute

Source: Irish Independent

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