Even with the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro less than two weeks away, many athletes are continuing to grapple with the decision whether they should compete. Concerns about Zika — the mosquito-borne virus that has broken out in Brazil over the past year — is giving many pause. The more mild symptoms athletes could experience if they contract Zika — fever, fatigue and muscle pain — are nowhere near as serious as the birth defects the virus can cause.
Zika has been linked to microcephaly in newborn babies, causing a lack of development in the baby’s brain and head. With many young athletes planning to start a family or hoping to have more children, traveling to Rio is not a risk they’re willing to take.
Major sports stars such as Roger Federer and Stephen Curry chose to sit out and recover from injuries they’ve suffered this season. The sport of golf, which is making its return to the Olympics after a 112-year absence, has suffered the biggest blow. The PGA’s Top 4 players — Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy — have all pulled out.
Below is a look at eight top athletes who won’t be heading to Brazil for the games.
The No. 3-ranked tennis star announced that he would not be competing in Rio or the rest of the tennis season, which means we won’t be seeing the Swiss at the U.S. Open, either. Federer underwent knee surgery in February for a torn meniscus. At Wimbledon earlier this month, he suffered a fall in his semifinal match against Milos Raonic, raising concerns he had perhaps reinjured his knee.
“The doctors advised that if I want to play on the ATP World Tour injury free for another few years, as I intend to do, I must give both my knee and body the proper time to fully recover,” Federer wrote on Facebook.
The 22-year-old Under Armour-sponsored golfer said the decision to skip Rio was something he “very much struggled with.” Spieth cited overall health concerns, not the Zika virus alone, as the key factor in his decision.
Following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA championship victory, star LeBron James announced that he would not participate in the Olympics. He did not cite Zika in his statement, only that he “could use the rest” following a grueling seven-game series against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
Adidas-sponsored golfer Dustin Johnson cited concerns about the Zika virus as his main reason for skipping Rio.
“This was not an easy decision for me,” Johnson said in a statement. “But my concerns about the Zika virus cannot be ignored.”
Johnson also said that he and his fianceé, Paulina Gretzky, with whom he has a young son, plan to have more children.
Australian top-ranked golfer Jason Day released a statement on Twitter last month explaining his reason for opting out of the Rio Games.
“While it has always been a major goal to compete in the Olympics on behalf of my country, playing golf cannot take precedent over the safety of our family,” said Day. “I hope all golf and Olympics fans respect and understand my position.”
“After speaking with those closest to me, I’ve come to realize that my health, and my family’s health, comes before anything else,” McIlroy said. “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.”
Bringing golf back to the Olympics was intended to spur global interest in the sport, but McIlory said ahead of the British Open earlier this month that he “didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game. I tried to get into golf to win championships and win major championships.”
The two-time NBA MVP announced in June ahead of the NBA Finals that he was withdrawing his name from the list of eligible players on Team USA’s preliminary roster for the Olympics.
“Due to several factors — including recent ankle and knee injuries — I believe this is the best decision for me at this stage of my career,” Curry said.
Tejay van Garderen
The American cyclist announced in June he would not travel to Rio because his wife Jessica is pregnant, and he did not want to put her at risk in relation to Zika.
“Although the risks associated with the Zika virus can be minimal and precautions can be taken, my wife Jessica is pregnant, and I don’t want to risk bringing anything back that could potentially have an effect,” he said.
Some, such as tennis player Simona Halep and soccer player Hope Solo, have publicly voiced concern.
U.S. women’s soccer goalie Solo said, “I strongly believe that no athlete should be put into this position — to decide between your Olympic dreams and your own health.”