McIlroy opts for ‘Irish’ rather than ‘British’ label at Olympics

June 2012: Irish Open at Royal Portrush
June 2012: Irish Open at Royal Portrush

Rory McIlroy has elected to represent Ireland when golf makes its return to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

McIlroy had previously spoken of being in an “extremely sensitive and difficult position” over the issue of representing Ireland or Great Britain and Northern Ireland – not to mention the third option of simply not playing to avoid controversy.

But on the eve of the Irish Open at Fota Island the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland revealed he would continue to represent Ireland, as he did throughout his amateur career and twice in the World Cup.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference. “I don’t know whether it’s been because the World Cup has been in Brazil and I’ve been thinking a couple of years down the line.

“Thinking about all the times that I played as an amateur for Ireland and as a boy and everything, I think for me it’s the right decision to play for Ireland in 2016.”

Asked if he had been “torn” on the issue, the former world number one added: “More worried about what other people would think, rather than me. But you’ve got to do what’s right for yourself and what you feel most comfortable with, and ultimately that was the decision that I made.

“I was always very proud to put on the Irish uniform and I would be very proud to do it again. Just because I’m playing golf for money and I’m a professional I’m supposed to have this choice or this decision to make, where if you look at the rugby players, cricketers or hockey players, they view Ireland as one, the same as we do in golf.

“I don’t think there’s any point to change that or go against that just because it’s a different event or it’s the Olympics.”

Golf’s world rankings will be instrumental in the make-up of the 60-player field in Brazil in two years’ time, with sixth-ranked McIlroy firmly on course to be involved.

McIlroy, who split from fiancee Caroline Wozniacki last month, added of his Olympic decision: “I’ve had a lot of time on my own the last few weeks and just been thinking about it a lot. It’s something that’s been quite important to me and something that I needed to make some sort of decision or some sort of stand on it.

“Just weighing up everything, and thinking back about the times that I played for Ireland and won the European Team championship with Ireland, I just thought why change that? Basically it’s just a continuation of what I’ve always done.”

It had been suggested the decision could be taken out of McIlroy’s hands by an Olympic regulation which stated he could only represent Great Britain if three years have passed since representing Ireland.

That rule means Graeme McDowell had already committed to playing for Ireland in Rio by contesting last year’s World Cup in Melbourne.