Irish competitors with Zika virus concerns won't face pressure to travel to Olympics
THE Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) has revealed it won't be putting any pressure on Rory McIlroy or any other athlete who may consider pulling out of the Rio Olympic Games due to ongoing concerns over the potential effects of the Zika outbreak in Brazil.
The infection, if transmitted to pregnant women, has been linked to brain abnormalities in newborn babies. The world number three from Holywood has said he will be "monitoring the situation" after appearing to express doubts about his participation in the Games as he contemplates starting a family after he marries his fiancee Erika Stoll. Recently-married Shane Lowry, who is expected to be Ireland's second pick for Rio, echoed McIlroy's sentiments in expressing some doubt over his participation due to the spread of the virus.
The Zika infection, which can be contracted when bitten by a certain strain of mosquito, has been shown to be a cause of microcephaly and other, similar brain conditions in babies. Last week, a group of 152 medical professionals and academics suggested it would be "unethical" for the Olympics to proceed in Rio due to the risk of the virus being spread to other countries by the half-a-million visiting athletes, team members and spectators who will be in Brazil in August.
However, the World Health Organisation moved swiftly to rubbish claims the Games should be postponed or relocated, insisting the risk of infection is slight in the Brazilian winter and in Rio as zika is more prevalent in the north of the country.
Stephen Martin, the OCI's chief executive, says McIlroy and Lowry will be free to make their own decision as to whether or not they are on the plane to Rio in the summer and added that all Irish team members are being constantly updated about any developments surrounding the virus.
"Every athlete and all performance support personnel have to consider the facts, look at the guidelines and make a personal decision on the matter." said the 57-year-old county Down man.
"Our main communication channel for all sports is through the team leader, in golf's case that is Paul McGinley. Paul is a strong advocate of golf's inclusion in the Olympic Games and would like Ireland to have a strong presence in men’s and women’s golf tournaments in Rio.
"All athletes and performance support personnel have been informed of our guidelines and our medical team is available to discuss any concerns with potential team members. As and when there is any new information, we update our private team app guidelines for potential team members and also circulate to team leaders for information and distribution to their athletes and support teams.
"The OCI continue to monitor the situation, staying in close contact with the Rio 2016, the World Health Organisation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the International Olympic Committee and with Irish Government departments to ensure we continue to proactively offer the latest and best possible advice."
Other Rio-bound Irish team members, including Derry triathlete Aileen Reid and Belfast boxer Michael Conlan, have confirmed they have no fears over the zika outbreak and say they have been well-briefed on the situation as it continues to develop.
Participation in the Games is the culmination of four years' hard work as far as the traditional Olympic sports are concerned and represents the pinnacle of an athlete's sporting career. However, as golf returns to the list of Olympic sports for the first time since 1904, it is seen by some, including Ireland's finest, as considerably less important than the Majors.
Some of the leading medal contenders, notably past Major winners Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzer and Vijay Singh among others, have all voted with their feet and opted not to compete in Rio 2016.