Rory McIlroy chooses Ireland over Britain for 2016 Olympics in Rio
Northern Irishman was eligible for either team but has ended speculation over his plans
After months of indecision over who to represent, Rory McIlroy announced on Wednesday that he will play for Ireland and not Britain at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The 25-year-old, who is from Northern Ireland, was eligible to play for either Ireland or Team GB when golf makes its return to the Olympics in Brazil for the first time since 1904.
Having played all of his amateur golf under the auspices of the Dublin-based Golfing Union of Ireland, the two-time major winner opted to stay with Ireland for the Olympics.
“I have been thinking about the decision a lot and remembered all the times I represented Ireland as an amateur,” McIlroy said on the eve of the Irish Open in Cork. “I was always very proud to put on the Irish uniform and play as an amateur and as a boy, and I would be very proud to do it again.”
Citizens of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, can hold both British and Irish citizenship. Most of the Protestant majority is British, most of its Catholic minority Irish.
McIlroy, while raised a Catholic, grew up in the predominantly Protestant town of Holywood east of Belfast and once said he considered himself more British than Irish.
His 2012 comments – suggesting he might prefer to join the British team – provoked strong ill feelings from Irish golf fans. McIlroy initially said he might skip Rio entirely to avoid alienating fans further.
Two other top Northern Ireland golfers, Darren Clarke and McDowell, are both Protestants who have identified with Ireland.
McIlroy has twice played in golf’s World Cup for Ireland, both times alongside fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell.
“Just because I’m getting paid to play this great game now doesn’t mean I should change [teams],” McIlroy said. “So I’m very happy with my decision. It means I can look forward to the Olympics in a couple of years’ time – you know, if I qualify, obviously, for the team.
“I just thought it was the right thing to do. It was the right time to let everyone know. Now I’m really looking forward to Rio in ’16.”
McIlroy announced his decision ahead of next month’s International Golf Federation meeting that will finalise the eligibility criteria for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.