Rory McIlroy will be offered the chance to carry the Ireland flag at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics in return for pledging his sporting allegiance to the country.
The Ulsterman is eligible for both Ireland and Great Britain, having previously played for the Golfing Union of Ireland, which covers Northern Ireland and the Republic.
In 2009, he claimed he would “probably play for Great Britain” as he has a British passport, a stance he reiterated last month when he hinted in an interview that he has “always felt more British than Irish”.
McIlroy subsequently insisted he had not made up his mind and Pat Hickey, the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, has now attempted to sway the world No. 1 by offering him the chance to be country’s flag-bearer in Brazil, where golf makes its first appearance at the Games on the Summer Games’ roster of sports since 1904.
“I will say to Rory that if he declares for Ireland, then he will automatically put himself in pole position to carry the Irish tricolour into the Olympic stadium in Rio,” said Hickey, who is also a board member on the International Olympic Committee.
“What he has done on the world stage for Irish golf is absolutely astonishing. Personally, I would dearly love for him to represent Ireland.
“You know it was over two years ago when Rory made some rash comments about representing Team GB. I think that he was perhaps a little immature back then and although he reiterated them again recently, in his present state of mind right now, I feel that he might be thinking differently.”
The subject of where McIlroy will choose to pledge his allegiance has been widely discussed by his fellow players, with Padraig Harrington suggesting he should side with Great Britain so that two more Irish players — including, potentially, himself — could be given an Olympic berth.
Hickey admitted he was “shocked and surprised” by Harrington’s stance, but McIlroy, already well established as one of golf’s true superstars having won two majors and played a starring role in two European Ryder Cup victories, will be aware of the incentive that flag-bearing would carry.
Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova have all carried their countries’ flags at recent Olympics, while McIlroy’s great friend, Rafael Nadal, was due to carry the Spanish flag in London until injury struck.
“Can you just imagine what something like this would do for Rory McIlroy,” Hickey added. “It would suddenly catapult him into the realms of being one of the most instantly recognisable sporting faces on the planet. Because make no mistake about it, that’s what carrying the flag does for people.”