By Mark Etheridge
South Africa’s top-ranked women’s golfer, Lee-Anne Pace has reluctantly opted out of selection consideration for Team South Africa at the Rio Olympics.
Pace, currently playing at the Portland Classic in the United States, issued an official statement on Thursday, announcing her decision.
The world’s 38th-ranked player sited concern for the Zika virus as the reason for her withdrawal.
‘Over recent months my team has been monitoring the situation regarding the Zika Virus and finding out as much information as possible. 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.’
While a good number of leading men’s golfers have withdraw from the Games, Pace is the first LPGA Tour player to withdraw from the Games.
Pace’s non-availability means that Paulo Reto is now SA’s top women’s player in contention at 119th in the world with Ashleigh Simon next best, ranked in 207th place.
For their part, the LPGA Tour released a statement saying: ‘Playing in the Rio 2016 Olympics is an incredible honor for any athlete, and we are excited for golf’s return to the Games. We also realize that the Zika virus is a concern for many, particularly for women with plans for a family in the near-term. The decision that any player makes is a personal one and the LPGA will respect and support our member’s decisions as it relates to participating in Rio 2016.’
Pace’s pulling out leaves 119th-ranked Paula Reto and 207th-ranked Ashleigh Simon in position to compete at Rio as golf returns to the Olympic line-up of sports after a 112-year absence.
Her full statement reads:
‘I have advised South African Golf Association, South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, Mr Gary Player and Sunshine Ladies Tour that I have withdrawn my name from consideration for the South African Olympic Golf Team for Rio.
‘I was very much looking forward to the opportunity of being part of the South African Golf Team and the wider South African Olympic Team. However, over recent months my team has been monitoring the situation regarding the Zika Virus and finding out as much information as possible. 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.
‘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.
‘I’m a very proud South African and I love representing my country whilst I play on the LPGA Tour around the world. To see the South African Flag flying at each tournament is a great motivator for me, along with all the fantastic support I receive from home. I wish the South African Olympic Team all the very best in Rio.
‘I also want to thank the IOC for golf’s return to the Olympics and I wish the IOC, Rio 2016 and the IGF a very successful Olympic Games.’
Picture of Pace courtesy of Thinus Maritz/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images