Rory McIlroy is reaching breaking point on the subject of his national allegiance and hinted that he is giving serious consideration to skipping the 2016 Olympic Games.
The world No 1 said in a BBC documentary broadcast on Thursday night that he may opt out when golf returns to the Games in Rio de Janeiro rather than risk offending fans by choosing to represent Ireland or Team GB.
Speaking to reporter Stephen Watson in “Rory: Being Number One”, the 23-year old said: “I just think being from where we’re from, we’re placed in a very difficult position. There have been sports people before me who have been put in that same position before.
“I mean, if I could and there was a Northern Irish team, I would play for Northern Ireland. I feel Northern Irish and obviously being from Northern Ireland you have a connection to Ireland and a connection to the UK.
“It’s a tough one. I haven’t made a decision. It is still four years away and whatever decision I make, whether that’s playing for Ireland, playing for Britain - not play at all maybe because I don’t want to upset too many people…”
Somewhat taken aback by mention of Option C, Watson asked: “Is that a really an option not to play because you may upset too many people?”
“Yes for sure. It’s definitely an option. I’ve got three options. Play for one side or another or not play at all. They are the three options that I have and the three options I am going consider very carefully and when I do make a decision it is going to one that I have thought long and hard about and one that I feel comfortable with.”
The Olympic question has been on the agenda since 2009 but it came to a head in early September when McIlroy made some candid comments to the Daily Mail’s Derek Lawrenson:
“What makes it such an awful position to be in is I have grown up my whole life playing for Ireland under the Golfing Union of Ireland umbrella. But the fact is, I’ve always felt more British than Irish.”
Just last week, McIlroy said in an RTE interview: “You don’t want to upset anyone with a choice that you make because I feel I am more than just a flag.
“I play golf and I am an international sportsperson and it doesn’t tie me to one flag or one allegiance and it’s just been a tough position to be put in.”
McIlroy felt compelled to issue an Open Letter to his fans in September so great was the fallout from the “more British than Irish” comments that suggested he might prefer to play for Team GB in Brazil.
“It was a moment, I don’t want to say of weakness, but a moment of, I guess, frustration with it all,” McIlroy said of the Daily Mail comments. “People tune in to watch me play on TV and feel like they are connected to me in some way. I don’t want to do repay them for their support with something they don’t want me to do.”
The documentary featured contributions from Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell and McIlroy’s girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki.
The Danish tennis star insisted that success had not changed McIlroy in the 18 months they’d been together.
“It’s good that we both have our own separate careers,” she said. “We know how the other is feeling and the drive to always want to improve at sport, but at the same time one of us isn’t sitting at home waiting for the other.
“People watch him play and win all these tournaments, but he hasn’t changed a bit.”