(Reuters) - Top Chinese woman golfer Shanshan Feng will compete at the Rio Games despite concerns over Zika virus and the world number 12 says she fears for the sport’s Olympic future following some high-profile withdrawals from the men’s competition.
Golf’s return to Olympics for the first time since 1904 has been hit by pullouts by several top male golfers, including world number one Jason Day, multiple major champion Rory McIlroy, Fiji’s Vijay Singh and Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.
The mosquito-borne Zika virus, which the World Health Organization says is spreading rapidly in the Americas, can cause crippling defects in babies and has been linked to the neurological disorder Guillain-Barre in adults.
Even though pregnant women appear to be most vulnerable to the virus, Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) players have enthusiastically embraced golf’s return to the Olympics.
“This is my first Olympic Games and might be my last, so this is my only chance,” Feng said ahead of the Kumho Tire Ladies Open, adding that she was not planning to have a baby in the next two-three years.
”I would not skip this chance for such a thing (Zika virus). Furthermore, I think China golf needs this Olympic Games. As a Chinese golfer I must take part.
“As for Zika virus, I believe in our science and technology.”
U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.
South African Lee-Anne Pace became the first women’s golfer to withdraw from the Rio Games earlier in the day over Zika concerns.
Feng, who won her only major at the 2012 LPGA Championship, said individual decisions to withdraw must be respected.
”It might affect the International Olympic Committee’s vote next year to decide if golf stays longer than 2020,“ the 26-year-old said. ”But we can’t do anything.
“As a player, I need to do my business in the Olympic Games. Hopefully, we can have a medal between the four Chinese players (two men and two women).”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Amlan Chakraborty