South African Lee Ann Pace has become the first woman to withdraw from the Olympic Games at Rio De Janeiro, citing her fears over the Zika virus.
Lee Ann Pace has become the first woman to withdraw from the Olympic Games at Rio De Janeiro, citing her fears over the Zika virus.
Pace's announcement follows a number of high profile withdrawals from within the men's ranks, including world number one Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.
Her decision to opt out of the Games means Pace, currently ranked 38th in the world, will be replaced by Ashleigh Simon who will take her seat on the plane to Rio alongside 119th ranked Paula Reto.
“After weighing up all the options and discussing it with my family and team, I have decided that due to the health concerns surrounding the Zika virus, I will not be participating," she said in a release.
“I hope that everyone can understand that this was a very difficult decision to come to, however my health and my future family’s health must come first.”
Whilst a dozen men have already confirmed they will not be competing at the Games, which will see golf return to the Olympics after a 112-year hiatus, Pace becomes the first female to so.
The 35-year-old's withdrawal, alongside that of a number of other high-profile male golfers who have opted out of the Games, will be a blow to organisers hoping that golf's return to the Olympics will bolster the profile of the game in areas which might otherwise not exposed to the sport.
Whilst the women’s top golfers have largely embraced the event, which will get underway on the 17th August, their male counterparts have been at the receiving end of substantial criticism after a number of the game’s stars have decided in recent weeks not to travel.
It certainly seems telling that the women, who have much more to gain from the Olympics in terms of growing the game, appear intent on travelling despite the apparent risk, whilst some within the men’s ranks, who have long treated golf’s return with apathy, are being far more vocal about the risks of the disease.
Whilst I am no health expert, the decision by a number of golfers to withdraw from the games, whilst other sportsmen and women, such as kayakers, equestrians and cyclists, who are just as likely to be exposed to the mosquito-borne disease, continue in their quest for glory, appears suggestive of the importance with which the world's best golfers are viewing the event. With health organisations suggesting that the chances of catching the disease could be as low as 500,000-to-1, and with some players, such as Australian Adam Scott, making it clear that it is majors rather than medals that gild a golf career, it's hard not to wonder whether some golfers are using the Zika virus as a convenient excuse.
Nonetheless with the virus linked to defects in newborn babies, it is unsurprising that those looking to start a family may have second thoughts before heading to Rio.
Many within the female game will be hoping that Pace’s decision will not act as a catalyst for other women to withdraw from the Games, although recent announcements by Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko in support of the event, will leave organisers hopeful that this will not be the case.
World number twelve Shanshan Feng has also stated that she will be heading to the games, a declaration which will undoubtedly come as a relief to those in her native China, where the game has grown exponentially since it was announced that it would be added the Olympic roster.
By Becky Gee
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