Sean O'Shea by Sean O'Shea
Will Rory McIlroy declare for Britain or Ireland in 2016 Olympics? -- Both Irish and British likely to claim golf’s hottest superstar
Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 08:08 AM
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|Northern Irish world champion golfer Rory McIlroy|
As a Catholic reared in Northern Ireland, Rory has come under intense scrutiny for his political views.
His grand uncle was murdered in The Troubles by Loyalist paramilitaries but McIlroy has never discussed it.
McIlroy has avoided all political discussion. The only incident of note came when some nationalists claimed he brushed off an Irish tricolor that was thrown at him after his 2011 win at the US Open but the video is inconclusive to say the least.
His compatriot and fellow golf major winner Graeme McDowell, who is a Protestant, gets no such scrutiny as it is widely accepted he will play with Britain.
But Rory will have a more difficult decision to make. Catholic athletes in the main declare for the Irish Republic but Rory has made it clear he considers himself Northern Irish first and his website reflects that with the red hand of Ulster flag.
But does he think of himself as more British than Irish? That will be the big question come 2016 when he should be on top of the world.
Just two years ago when asked, Rory said it would be Great Britain and Northern Ireland if he made the cut. But in 2008 he played for Ireland in the golf World Cup.
But more recently he says he doesn't know.
"Basically, if I am going to be very honest, which I usually am, whatever I say is going to upset someone," he said. "So I may as well just say I don't know and wait until four or five years' time, whenever I have to make a decision."
He holds a British passport and it is unknown if he has an Irish one.
He has succeeded in making his religion a non-issue – most Northern Irish people know which religion someone is right away --- but for many years people were unsure of what religion McIlroy was.
A New York Times profile of him by Niall Stanage referred to that very fact, saying it was an extraordinary achievement by McIlroy in his own right in having both sides cheer equally for him.
Fellow major winner Padraig Harrington may have had it right when he suggested Rory definitely declare for Britain, thereby making room for another Irish guy on the Irish team.
"I’m fascinated with all this conversation about who we declare for. If Rory and Graeme declare for Great Britain, it means we get two more Irish guys into it. So if somebody wants Rory to be as Irish as he can be, he better declare for GB and we get two more guys in."
Sounds like a plan for a lot of people.
His agent says Rory is no hurry to deal with it. "Rory hasn't even thought about the 2016 Olympics," said Conor Ridge, "It's four years away and God knows where he's going to be in his career at that time.
"He's 23 now and will be 27 when Rio comes round, so it's not even something to discuss at this stage," said Ridge of the Dublin sports management firm Horizon, which represents McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. See more: Irish in Golf