THE head of golf’s all-Ireland governing body would be happy even if Rory McIlroy opts to play for Great Britain at the next Olympic Games.
The comments follow criticism of the 23-year-old golfing prodigy after he remarked that he has “always felt more British than Irish” and is unsure which nation to play for at the next Olympics.
Now the boss of the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI), under which Rory played before turning professional, has spoken out in support of him.
The GUI is made up of 430 clubs across the Republic and Northern Ireland – including Rory’s own home club of Holywood in Co Down.
General secretary Pat Finn said: “Personally, I wouldn’t see it as an insult for the GUI if a player chooses to play for Great Britain.
“Many of our programmes are funded by golfers who are British as well as Irish.
“I think we should be proud of the fact he’s achieving so much as a former member of a GUI-affiliated golf club.”
It should be noted that Rory does remain a member of the Holywood club in an honorary capacity.
Mr Finn also said it was inappropriate for Northern Irish players to have to play under the tricolour, as happened with Rory and fellow Ulster golfer Graeme McDowell at the golfing World Cup in China last year. He said: “We should be cheering them on regardless of what (Olympic) team they might play in – if they qualify, which is another matter.”
A spokesman for Sinn Fein said: “The view would be as a resident in the north he has a right to declare himself British or Irish. Although we’d love to see him declare himself for Ireland, it’s his choice.”
Stormont sports minister Sinn Fein’s Caral Ni Chuilin, said: “As was the case during the past Olympic and Paralympic Games, and indeed in all sporting endeavours, I support local athletes and wish them every success.”
The Olympic Council of Ireland said before he is even able to make a decision Rory would have to qualify, which would probably be based on his world ranking at the time.
After that, it is likely he would not have to nominate a country until perhaps four months before the Brazil 2016 games begin.
Meanwhile, some of Rory’s friends and family seem to regard the whole affair as a storm in a teacup.
Friend Mark McCusker, 24, said: “I think people are just making a big deal about nothing. They’re reading too much into it.”
Uncle Colm McIlroy said simply: “Whatever Rory wants. He’s his own man.”
The furore began on Monday after Rory said he felt more British than Irish in a newspaper interview.
He then sent out a statement saying he is proud he “grew up in Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK”, and at being “a product of Irish golf”.