Athletes starting to pull out of Rio Olympics over Zika fears

Marc Leishman hits his tee shot on the 11th hole during the first round of The Players Championship at the TPC Stadium course on May 12, 2016 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Olympic athletes have started to pull out of the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in August over fears of contracting the Zika virus.

Earlier this week, Australian golfer Marc Leishman announced he will not compete in the Olympics over the potential health risk of contracting the Zika virus.

“Last April my children and I almost lost my wife Audrey to toxic shock syndrome. Since then, Audrey has been prone to infection and is far removed from 100 per cent recovery of her immune system,” Leishman said in a statement through PGA Australia. “We have consulted with Audrey’s physician and due to her ongoing recovery and potential risks associated with the transmission of the Zika virus it was a difficult yet easy decision not to participate.”

READ MORE: These are the tell-tale symptoms of Zika virus, according to new case study

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that has been found to cause underdeveloped brains in babies born to women infected while pregnant. It’s also potentially linked to neurological disorders in some infected children and adults.

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Leishman is the second Australian golfer to pull out of the Summer Olympics. Last month, Adam Scott, who ranks 7th in world PGA Tour rankings, cited a busy playing schedule as his reason for dropping out. However, the golfer did have concerns over the virus.

“I have not used it as an excuse although it would be very convenient to do so. It is only part of my concerns,” Scott told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I will say when the World Health Organisation has serious concerns over the impact that hundreds of thousands of people flooding into Rio is going to have I think we should listen.”

This is the first time golf has returned to the Olympics since 1904.

READ MORE: South Korea athletes to wear ‘Zika-proof’ Olympic uniforms in Rio

“Clearly traditional Olympic athletes are in a very awkward situation. They’ve trained so hard for this and it is everything that they’ve dreamed of and for a health epidemic to get in the way, I understand why they are still trying to go,” Scott told the Australian newspaper. “But it has to be treated seriously and I just don’t think it is. It hasn’t really got major traction yet and I am amazed by that.”

Earlier this week LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan told the Associated Press he had a handful of players ask him about the Zika virus, but none have said they won’t play because of the virus.

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“I don’t know any player who’s even said, ‘I’m on the fence,’” Whan said. “I’ve got plenty of players at the age where this could be concerning, but I haven’t heard any player say they’re interested in stepping out.”

READ MORE: Rio Olympics should be postponed due to Zika, says Canadian public health prof

A Canadian professor of law and public health says the Summer Olympics should be postponed or moved to other venues because of the threat posed by the Zika virus epidemic.

In an article published in the Harvard Public Health Review, Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa, said the expected half million visitors to the Olympic and Paralympic Games pose a risk of spreading the virus once they return to their home countries.

“Simply put, Zika infection is more dangerous, and Brazil’s outbreak more extensive, than scientists reckoned a short time ago. Which leads to a bitter truth: the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games must be postponed, moved, or both, as a precautionary concession,” Attaran wrote.

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said it is monitoring the situation in Brazil.

“Team Canada’s medical team is monitoring all health risks in and around Rio in anticipation of the upcoming Games and is taking appropriate steps to ensure our athletes can compete without worries,” the COC said in a statement to Global News. “The IOC continues to monitor the situation very closely and is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to keep abreast of all developments.

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“In addition, WHO has issued a statement that, based on available evidence, there should be no general restrictions on travel and trade with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission,” the COC said.

with files from The Canadian Press

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