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With six weeks to go until the Olympics kick-off in Rio de Janeiro, golfer Rory McIlroy announced today that he will not be participating in the Summer Games due to growing concerns about the Zika virus.
The statement from the athlete, who is a formerly world ranked No. 1 golfer and winner of all four majors, marks the highest-profile athlete to opt out of the Games over the health scare. McIlroy's decision to withdraw came as a surprise to the Olympics, after already completing his vaccine shots and seeming committed to compete.
Despite his initial enthusiasm about the competition, with a wedding planned in the near future to his fiancée Erica Stoll, the 27-year-old has decided that the risks of playing in Rio would outweigh the pros of going for the gold.
In his statement, he says, "After speaking with those closest to me, I've come to realize that my health, and my family's health, comes before anything else." He adds, "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 Irish McIlroy, who is the highest ranked European golfer at No. 4 in the world, joins a growing list of athletes as well as personalities who are skipping the Games due to health risks. The growing fear around Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to severe birth defects, has been a continual source of contentment in the months leading up to the Olympic Games.
In response to the PGL champ's withdrawal, the International Golf Federation voiced disappointment regarding McIlroy's decision. The organization "recognizes that some players will have to weigh personally a unique set of circumstances as they contemplate their participating in golf's historic return to the Olympic Games."
NBC will begin broadcasting the games Aug. 5.
(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)