Rory McIlroy’s change of heart about the 2016 Olympics could cause real damage to golf’s standing in the world—and its future in the games. But his withdrawal has hurt the country he had chosen to represent in Rio even more.
In 2015, Northern-Ireland born McIlroy announced that he would play for Ireland and not Great Britain in the Olympics. Irish fans were ecstatic at the time, as McIlroy represented a real chance at a gold medal. For the small nation, McIlroy’s participation was a very big deal: in the 2012 games, Irish athletes brought home five medals (including one gold), four of which were for boxing. An article published today on an Irish sports website about McIlroy’s decision was subtitled: “Major blow to our medal hopes.”
Paul McGinley, the captain of the Irish Olympic golf team who had welcomed McIlroy with open arms, told Golf Channel that he was “disappointed” that McIlroy wouldn’t be playing for Ireland after all. McGinley said that he “respected” Rory’s right not to subject himself to the risks of contracting the Zika virus.
“We move forward with somebody who’s going to take his place,” McGinley said. As things stand now, the Irish Olympic golf team will consist of Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell.
Other Irish athletes were not as forgiving as McGinley was. An Irish boxer who was until recently an Olympic hopeful told an Irish radio station that McIlroy’s flip-flop was “like a kick in the teeth.” He also tweeted multiple times about the news:
I have cried tears & spilled blood in trying to qualify for Rio. This affirms my opinions. We are better w/o him!! https://t.co/kzjxKQfKFr
— Darren O’Neill (@DarrenONeil) June 22, 2016
— Nikki Symmons (@Niksymmons) June 22, 2016
In his statement, McIlroy wrote that he trusts that the Irish people would understand his decision. It looks like some of them may not.