Rory McIlroy is in an unplayable lie.
The 23-year-old is faced with a politically sensitive decision no athlete should have to make. No wonder he issued an open letter on Twitter, telling the world to go away and leave him alone for a few years.
McIlroy has a choice of representing Ireland or Great Britain for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, when golf will be staged for the first time in the games since 1904. Whichever choice he makes, he will be roundly criticized.
The two-time major winner was born in Northern Ireland and holds a British passport. However, he grew up playing golf for Ireland because the Golfing Union of Ireland is the governing body for the North and South of the Emerald Isle.
McIlroy received much in the way of funding from the GUI to develop his talent. Included in that funding was coaching and travel to represent Ireland around the world. Golf fans in the Irish Republic claim him as their own, and perhaps might feel slighted if he were to choose to represent Great Britain in Rio. Besides, Ireland won only one gold medal at the recent London Games compared with 29 for Great Britain. The nation needs all the help it can get.
However, McIlroy is British. He holds a British passport. There will be pressure to turn out for Great Britain four years from now.
It’s to McIlroy’s eternal credit that he never has gotten involved in politics. Why should he? After all, his interest is in chasing small white balls around green and pleasant fields, something he does better than anyone right now. Like most 23-year-olds, he would rather leave politics until a later age.
That’s hard to do in Northern Ireland, where the political situation has been in turmoil for nearly the country’s entire history. And anyone who knows their history knows the conflict isn’t just political but religious, too. The division between Catholic and Protestant is deep-rooted and has driven the country apart. It continues to this day, despite the progress Northern Ireland has made in recent years.
McIlroy has taken the right option by telling the world to back off. However, he’s only delaying the inevitable. At some point, he is going to have to pin his colors to the mast.
Or maybe not. Maybe the best way out of this quandary is to say no, thanks to the Olympics. A gold medal would look good around McIlroy’s neck, but it might not be worth the hassle he’ll go through to get it.