International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has said the withdrawal of the top men from the Olympic golf tournament at the 2016 summer Games in Rio de Janeiro will be taken into account when evaluating the sport’s future on the Olympic programme.

Golf and rugby union, in the form of the sevens format, were approved by the IOC in 2013 for inclusion in the Rio Games and 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Golf is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1904, but 20 men have pulled out from the Games, including the top four of Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.

Many of the players to have withdrawn have cited the Zika virus as a reason behind their decision. “We have to respect the individual decisions, even if they are going contrary to the recommendations given by the World Health Organization (WHO), if Zika is given as a reason," Bach (pictured) said, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Bach added that “very different reasons” not related to Zika have also been put forth in golf circles for skipping the Olympics. “We're also following with interest the discussions in the golf community, how they themselves are considering these discussions and what judgment they are making,” he said.

McIlroy caused controversy earlier this week when he said he may not watch the Olympic golf tournament on television, adding he would probably confine his viewing to the likes of track and field, swimming and diving – “the stuff that matters.”

The Rio 2016 golf tournaments will run from August 11-14 for the men and from August 17-20 for the women. The IOC is set to meet after the Games to evaluate its sports programme going forward and the spate of withdrawals have cast questions over golf’s commitment to the Olympics.

“One of the main categories of the evaluation is, of course, the question of participation of the best players,” Bach said. “Let us wait then for this evaluation. Then, of course, we will also speak with the International Golf Federation once this is available.”

While the men’s field for the Olympics is set to be missing several star names, an almost full-strength women’s line-up is in place, led by world No.1 Lydia Ko. Ladies European Tour (LET) chief executive Ivan Khodabakhsh has criticised the attitude of the men, adding that they have let down the rest of the sport.

“The top male golfers have let down the rest of the sport very badly,” Khodabakhsh said, according to the Reuters news agency. “The opportunity to do something for the broader good of the game is in their hands and they seem to be taking a very myopic approach.

“Brazil is a country of 200 million people in which fewer than 20,000 are registered golfers. The impact of the Olympics on those type of numbers across the world is part of the reason that golf is a success as an Olympic sport this summer.”