June 19,2014(ISN) – Rory McIlroy has finally decided to represent Ireland rather than Britain should he be selected for Rio 2016, which will stage the first Olympic golf tournament in 112 years.
The 25-year-old current world number six – born in Northern Ireland, which does not have a separate Olympic team – announced his decision ahead of next month’s International Golf Federation (IGF) meeting that will finalise the eligibility criteria for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.
”There’s no point in delaying it and letting it linger any longer,” said McIlroy, winner of the US Open in 2011 and PGA Championship in 2012.
”Watching the World Cup in Brazil, thinking about Brazil in a couple of years’ time, it just sort of got me thinking, maybe I should just go ahead and get it out of the way.”
Speaking on the eve of the Irish Open in Cork, McIlroy, brought up in Holywood, east of Belfast, added: ‘I have been thinking about the decision a lot and remembered all the times I represented Ireland as an amateur.
“‘I was always very proud to put on the Irish uniform and play as an amateur and as a boy, and I would be very proud to do it again.”
Rory McIlroy announces his long-awaited decision over the Rio 2016 Games to the media on the eve of the Irish Open – he would play in Brazil for Ireland rather than Britain ©Getty Images
Patrick Hickey, President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, was naturally delighted with McIlroy’s decision.
“On behalf of Team Ireland, I am thrilled at the news that Rory will declare for Ireland for the Rio Games,” he told insidethegames.
“His amazing sporting talent, brilliant personality and endless energy will give all our athletes a huge boost.
“He is an iconic figure in world sport and will be very warmly welcomed by all the Irish team members, no matter what sport they represent.
“This is great news for Ireland’s medal prospects for Rio 2016.”
McIlroy has avoided the subject over the last couple years following a newspaper report which quoted him as saying he felt “more British than Irish”.
This prompted strong criticism of him from Irish golf followers and he initially said he might skip Rio 2016 altogether to avoid alienating fans further.
IGF officials said in May they wanted the nationality policy in place by July, two years before the Olympic golf fields are announced.
Two other top Northern Ireland golfers, Darren Clarke and McDowell, are Protestants who have already indicated a preference for Ireland ahead of Britain.
McIlroy played all of his amateur golf under the auspices of the Golfing Union of Ireland, and played twice for Ireland in the World Cup alongside McDowell.
Rory McIlroy had even considered missing golf’s return to the Olympic programme after a 112-year absence because of the dilemma he faced about which country to represent
”Just because I’m getting paid to play this great game now doesn’t mean I should change [team],” McIlroy said.
”So I’m very happy with my decision.
“It means I can look forward to the Olympics in a couple of years’ time – you know, if I qualify, obviously, for the team.
”I just thought it was the right thing to do.
“It was the right time to let everyone know.
“Now I’m really looking forward to Rio in ’16.”