PADRAIG Harrington says he has ‘‘massive sympathy’’ for Rory McIlroy over golf’s return to the Olympics in 2016.
The world number one, like all Northern Ireland athletes, can choose between representing Team GB or Ireland – and, having seen the reaction last autumn to saying he felt ‘‘more British’’, has even said he might not to go to Brazil at all.
Dubliner Harrington, in South Africa for this week’s Volvo Golf Champions, said: ‘‘I have massive sympathy as an Irishman and massive sympathy more so as a sportsman.
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‘‘No sportsman should have to make that decision. That’s it, straightforward – nobody at 23 years of age should be asked to make that decision.
‘‘And the reality is there’ve been people in politics for the last hundred years who have tried to negotiate that and haven’t been able to. So why would you ask a 23-year-old just because he’s going to hit a little white golf ball?
‘‘It’s very unfortunate and I think it is unfortunate in the sense that it means a great deal for golf for him to play.
‘‘It’s a very big deal because golf (not part of the Games for over a century) is only on a trial period in the Olympics.
‘‘We have two runs at it and we do, as golfers, have to perform and put our best foot forward, so it would be nice if the world number one is there and he’s supporting the event.
‘‘It’s an extraordinarily difficult decision. We need our best players to play in the Olympics to show that golf is serious in the Olympics.
‘‘It would be nice if the Olympic council would say ‘Here we go, you can play in the Olympics’, or make the decision on their behalf.
There’s going to be no winner out of this one whatever.’’ McIlroy’s big-money switch to Nike moved a step closer after Jumeirah Group announced that it is not renewing their sponsorship deal.
McIlroy is expected to sign a ten-year deal with Nike which is reported to be worth £156m to the 23-year-old.
Jumeirah Group had sponsored the two-time major winner since he was 18.