Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Whole country backs you, Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy will represent Ireland in Rio de Janeiro
Rory McIlroy will represent Ireland in Rio de Janeiro

Rory McIlroy's equivocation for several months on whether to represent Team GB or Ireland at the next Olympics demonstrates the dilemma many people here feel over identity. Here is an international superstar sportsman whose main concern was what other people would make of his decision when he finally made it.

Well, he need not have worried. His decision to represent Ireland has gone down well and, perhaps, is an indication that we are finally maturing as a society on this issue. When we look at census returns it is clear that there is a diverse range of identities here. It is not a simple British-Irish divide any more.

Like Rory, who previously stated that he felt more British than Irish, it is possible to straddle both. Politically, for example, people may feel strong links to the UK but that does not stop them cheering on an Irish rugby team when it faces England.

More and more people are opting to describe themselves as Northern Irish, a signal that this is a distinct region which refuses to be pigeon-holed .

Rory has based his decision on sporting reasons. He represented Ireland as an amateur and in two World Cups.

Golf is recognised as an all-Ireland sport and it makes sense for him to opt for Ireland in the Olympics. What we know from past experience is that he is intensely proud to be from Northern Ireland and wastes no opportunity to promote it.

He, like our other golfing champions, are fine ambassadors for Northern Ireland and the Olympics will be another great opportunity to put us on the global map.

The Northern Ireland tourist authorities must make sure that they are up to par when it comes to seizing this opportunity.

Our golfers have given Northern Ireland a tremendous global status in the sport, and with the recent announcement that The Open is to be staged at Portrush, it is clear that we are now the epicentre of golf on these islands.

We must not allow the resulting dividend to be cashed in by the Republic at our expense.

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