Northern Ireland

Rory McIlroy: Golf boss speaks about NI native's allegiance dilemma

Rory McIlroy
Image caption Rory McIlroy could play for either Great Britain or Ireland in the 2016 Olympics

A top golf executive has said he would like to take the pressure off Rory McIlroy over which country he might represent at the 2016 Olympic Games.

McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, would be eligible to play for either Great Britain or Ireland for the Rio games.

But he may opt out altogether, for fear of upsetting his fans with his choice.

Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson hinted that because McIlroy played for Ireland at amateur level, the choice may be taken from him.

The 23-year-old golf star grew up in Holywood, County Down, on the outskirts of east Belfast.

In a BBC documentary in January, McIlroy said he might opt out of the 2016 Olympic Games because he did not want to offend anyone.

Olympic regulation

He said he was considering the options of playing for Britain, Ireland or not at all.

"I just think being from where we're from, we're placed in a very difficult position," he said.

"I feel Northern Irish and obviously being from Northern Ireland you have a connection to Ireland and a connection to the UK.

"If I could and there was a Northern Irish team I'd play for Northern Ireland.

"Play for one side or the other - or not play at all because I may upset too many people… Those are my three options I'm considering very carefully," McIlroy said.

Image caption Peter Dawson said he would like to take the pressure off McIlroy and others in a similar situation

But Mr Dawson believes there may be a way to make life easier for the World Number Two player and others like him.

"Because of Rory's history of playing for Ireland at amateur level and World Cup level, there may be an Olympic regulation that because you played in a previous world championship for a certain country, that has to carry with you," he said.

"Does the World Cup count as a world championship? Golf isn't structured the way other sports are."

Rory McIlroy has twice played in the World Cup for Ireland - both times alongside fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell.

National anthem

Mr Dawson said: "I would very much like to take this burden of choice away from the player if we can possibly find a way because it's not fair.

"The last thing we want is the player to worry about it."

However, golf commentator Maureen Madill told BBC Radio Ulster that it was not a clear cut solution as during his earlier career, McIlroy had represented both countries.

"Rory is in a very, very difficult position and it's a rather unique position because he has played for Ireland and played for Great Britain and Ireland and he has similar allegiances to both, and that's not a normal thing when you consider other countries," she said.

Ms Madill, a former British Ladies Amateur Champion, is originally from Coleraine in Northern Ireland and said she understood his dilemma.

"I played golf for Ireland and I played for Great Britain and Ireland, so I've walked out to the Irish national anthem and stood under the Irish flag and I've walked out to the British national anthem and stood under the Union Jack," she said.

"Maybe some people listening will think 'oh well, you can't feel the same about both' but believe me, you do.

"Growing up in the north of Ireland, I think the first thing you want to do is play for Ireland, because that's your first step, if you like, on the way to being recognised as getting somewhere in your sport."


Ms Madill added that qualifying to play for Great Britain and Ireland was viewed as the "next step" to success because more players were involved in the competitions.

"It is a situation that it peculiar to Northern Ireland players and Rory is very aware of whom he may upset and that is the last thing that he wants," she said.

"I don't think it would be too bad a thing if they managed to dig up something but I'm not sure that they will be able to. I think he might have to make the decision."

In September last year, Rory McIlroy released an open letter on his Twitter account in response to quotes attributed to him which said he felt "more British than Irish".

"I am in an extremely sensitive and difficult position and I conveyed as much in a recent newspaper interview," he wrote at the time.

"I am a proud product of Irish golf and the Golfing Union of Ireland. I am also a proud Ulsterman who grew up in Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom.

"That is my background and always will be. I receive great support from both Irish and British fans alike and it is greatly appreciated."

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