Ireland ups Olympic ante for McIlroy

Rory McIlroy at the Ryder Cup
Getty Images
Rory McIlroy draped himself in the flag of his native Northern Ireland to celebrate Europe's victory in the Ryder Cup.

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 | 12:30 a.m.

Rory McIlroy created quite a kerfuffle a while ago when he said he wasn’t sure whether he would play under the British flag or the Irish flag in the 2016 Olympics. Now, apparently, Ireland is making a pre-emptive strike to secure McIlroy’s allegiance for Rio de Janeiro.

According to The Daily Telegraph newspaper in England, Pat Hickey, the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, will offer McIlroy the chance to be country’s flag-bearer in Brazil, where golf will return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.

"I will say to Rory that if he declares for Ireland, then he will automatically put himself in pole position to carry the Irish tricolour into the Olympic stadium in Rio," Hickey told the newspaper. Hickey is also a member of the International Olympic Committee board.

"What he has done on the world stage for Irish golf is absolutely astonishing," Hickey added. "Personally, I would dearly love for him to represent Ireland."

McIlroy is eligible to play for either nation because he was born and raised in Northern Ireland. Originally, McIlroy said he wasn't sure which he'd play for, but indications that he was laying the groundwork to play for Britain sparked such a heated response that the next day he issued a letter via Twitter stressing that he hadn’t made any decisions. Then, earlier this year, the topic arose again when McIlroy said he was "reconsidering a lot of things," and noted that he still had several years to decide.

McIlroy grew up playing the game as part of the Golfing Union of Ireland, but has said he feels more British than Irish and travels with a British passport. For whom he ultimately willl play has been a hot topic among some of his fellow players. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington raised eyebrows when he suggested McIlroy should tee it up for Great Britain so that more Irish players — including, potentially, himself — could be play in the Olympics.

Hickey told The Telegraph he was "shocked and surprised" by Harrington’s remarks, and stressed the benefits McIlroy could accrue by choosing to play for Ireland.

"Can you just imagine what something like this would do for Rory McIlroy," Hickey said. "It would suddenly catapult him into the realms of being one of the most instantly recognizable sporting faces on the planet. Because make no mistake about it, that’s what carrying the flag does for people."