Monday 20 November 2017

Dermot Gilleece: No reasonable person would dare criticise Rory McIlroy's Olympic call

Rory McIlroy has opted not to compete in Rio due to Zika virus fears
Rory McIlroy has opted not to compete in Rio due to Zika virus fears

Dermot Gilleece

In the course of a lengthy interview I had with Rory McIlroy during Irish Open week at Fota Island in 2014, he talked about the decision he had just made to represent Ireland in the Rio Olympics.

“It was a decision I wanted to take myself,” he said. “It’s a big thing representing a country. You don’t want to be standing up there, say in 2016, getting an Olympic medal and hearing a national anthem playing and  thinking ‘I wish it was the other one they’re playing.’ You know what I mean.”

He went on: “So, I thought through every aspect of it, right to that sort of detail. Had the decision been taken away from me, I could have ended up playing for somebody I didn’t really want to. So, while it wasn’t necessarily easy, I was most definitely happy that I was the one making the decision.”

Almost exactly two years on, he has announced a change of heart, citing the one thing he hadn’t thought about at Fota - the Zika virus.  And no reasonable observer would dare criticise him, simply because of the personal nature of the decision, especially in the context of a planned marriage to his fiancée, Erica Stoll, and their plans to start a family.

Earlier this year, McIlroy hinted at possible problems concerning the virus. Yet as months passed with no serious indication of a withdrawal, it seemed more likely he would be a leading challenger for the gold medal.

Especially in view of his comments at Oakmont last week, prior to the US Open. 

“….Rio is part of our schedule now and something that we should get excited about,” he said. “You know, golf in the Olympics, it's great for the game. I feel like it should hopefully grow the game in different parts of the world that haven't been exposed to golf.

“The chatter has been somewhat quiet so far. I mean, mostly everyone's just been talking about Zika and everything else. But I think once we get these Majors out of the way, there's a lot of trophies and things to play for before that. But once we get that out of the way, our attention will turn to that, and I think everyone will start to get a bit more excited about it.”

Against that background, what are we to read into this morning’s announcement? It is interesting that it was made from this side of the Atlantic. As observers would have noticed from television images of Northern Ireland’s match with Germany in Paris last night, McIlroy was in the stands as a dedicated fan.

The transatlantic trip, after he had missed the cut at Oakmont last Saturday, would have afforded him the opportunity of lengthy chats with family and friends. During which, we can assume, his participation in the Olympic Games was discussed.

Whatever the circumstances, he has now made his decision, opening the door for fellow Ulsterman, Graeme McDowell, as a replacement. Except that McDowell’s wife is shortly expecting their second child.

Who could have imagined that the return of golf to the Olympics after a lapse of 112 years, could ultimately be dominated by family planning.

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