Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Irish Olympic boss 'crawling' to Rory McIlroy with flag offer, says Paddy Barnes

Rory McIlroy with his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki

The suggestion that Rory McIlroy should carry the Irish flag at the Rio Olympics has infuriated one of the country’s most successful Olympians, leading to an outburst that could land him in trouble with officialdom.

Two-time bronze medal-winning boxer and fellow northerner Paddy Barnes is furious about offering McIlroy the chance to carry the flag at the next Games in Rio.

He accused the country’s top Olympic official Pat Hickey of “crawling” to the golf star, who has not made up his mind whether to compete for Ireland or Team GB in Brazil.

He also made a derogatory comment about Mr Hickey, but the message was later removed.

Mr Hickey, the Olympic President of Ireland, had already come in for some ridicule when he suggested the Holywood ace could become a true superstar by waving the green, white and orange flag at the opening ceremony of the Games in Brazil in four years’ time.

The Olympic chief said the gesture would help catapult the world number one golfer on to the world stage.

The multi-millionaire sports star is one of the most famous faces on the planet after reaching the very top of the sport in the past 16 months.

He has claimed the world number one spot, bagged two Major titles and helped Europe to their famous Ryder Cup win against America last month.

If the 23-year-old makes it to the next Olympics, he is entitled to play for either Team GB or Team Ireland — a dilemma he finds difficult and has not yet made a decision on.

According to Mr Hickey, McIlroy will be offered the chance to carry the tricolour in return for pledging his sporting allegiance to Ireland.

“Can you just imagine what something like this would do for Rory McIlroy?” Mr Hickey said.

“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.”

Following those comments, Barnes went online on social networking site Twitter to vent his anger at the suggestion.

He labelled Mr Hickey a “p***k” in a comment reminiscent of England footballer Ashley Cole’s outburst at the English FA when he called them “t***s” and was subsequently charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

Cole has admitted the offence and apologised.

The Belfast fighter could also find himself in hot water with the Irish Olympic authorities after his comments. His first message was a re-tweet from another source which read: “Pat Hickey insults all Irish Olympic hopefuls, offering flag to @McIlroyRory without consultation.”

It was his next tweet that is liable to land him in trouble with the Olympic authorities.

He said: “I see Pat Hickey crawling to Rory McIlroy about carrying the flag at the next Olympics, what a p***k!”

Some of his followers then joined in the debate. One said: “Ridiculous action. How desperate does that make us sound not to mention how disrespectful it is.”

A second added: “Hickey is a disgrace”, with another tweeter adding: “Agreed. Carrying flag is an honour not a bribe.”

One man summed up Mr Hickey’s position: “Oh dear, it looks like Pat Hickey has pipped Alasdair McDonnell for the PR disaster of the year award.”

McIlroy has 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.

Neither the boxer nor anyone from the Irish Olympic Council was available for comment last night.

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