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Grace is latest SA golfer to say no to Rio Olympics
- Updated: June 24, 2016
South Africa’s top-ranked golfer, world No11 Branden Grace, withdrew from the Rio Olympics on Friday, becoming the fourth golfer to cite the Zika virus as a reason not to play in Rio de Janeiro this summer.
According to news agency Associated Press, Grace, a two-time winner this year, said in an official statement: ‘After serious consideration, it is with regret that I have decided to withdraw myself from the Olympic competition due to the risk posed by the Zika virus.’.
‘Although it was a huge goal of mine to represent my country in the Olympics, we are getting married in November and hoping to start a family in the near future, so I must put the health of my family first.’
Brazil has been the hardest hit of the approximately 60 countries that have reported an outbreak of Zika, the mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological problems in adults.
The announcement came two days after Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, the No4 player and with worldwide appeal among golf’s growing list of young stars, said he won’t be part of golf’s return to the Olympics because of Zika. McIlroy is also engaged and said he plans to start a family soon.
Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel said three weeks ago that Zika was behind his decision to withdraw.
Schwartzel said he and his wife plan to have more children and that he would play if he were single or if the Olympics were held elsewhere.
Marc Leishman of Australia also cited Zika because his wife’s immune system has not fully recovered from nearly dying last year of toxic shock syndrome.
Others who withdrew – Adam Scott of Australia, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Vijay Singh of Fiji and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland – did not specifically cite Zika.
Grace’s decision is a blow to South Africa because the country’s best three players – Grace, Oosthuizen at No14 and Schwartzel at No23 – all have pulled out. Next in line are Jaco van Zyl and Brandon Stone, who won the South African Open at the start of the year but has yet to play in a major.
Grace said he wishes the South African teams well and apologised to fans for withdrawing. ‘It would have been a huge honor to represent my country, so I really hope to be able to qualify again in four years’ time,’ he said.