Rory McIlroy revealed recently that he will probably not play golf at the 2020 Olympics at Tokyo just as he did not play golf at the 2016 Olympics at Rio. McIlroy was part of a large contingent, which included Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, that bailed on Rio. Spieth has made it public that he will do everything he can to be there in 2020 for Tokyo. McIlroy has not.
"More likely than not I won't be going to the Games in 2020," McIlroy told BBC. "Just because my personal feelings towards, not the Olympic Games -- I think the Olympic Games are great -- I think golf included in the Olympic Games is fantastic. Just for me, it's just something I just don't want to get into. That's a personal choice, and hopefully respect that decision.
"It's a decision I haven't taken lightly. A decision I've fought with myself over for so many years. Golf in the Olympics is a great thing. It went so good in '16, and I hope it goes even better in 2020. I just probably won't be a part of it."
So what is McIlroy talking about here? In a separate interview with the Irish Independent, McIlroy went into more detail about his inner conflict. McIlroy is from Northern Ireland. Because of this he had the opportunity to choose whether to play for Ireland or Great Britain at the Olympic Games.
"Not everyone is (driven by) nationalism and patriotism and that's never been me, because I felt like I grew up in a place where I wasn't allowed to be," McIlroy told the Irish Independent. "It was suppressed. I'm very conflicted because ... I'm a Catholic but I feel very much 'Northern Irish'. And I never wanted it to get political or about where I'm from, but that's what it turned into. And it just got to the point where it wasn't worth the hassle."
This is a very complex situation that has played out over many decades and will reverberate for many more.
"I mean when it was announced (that golf was to be an Olympic sport) in 2009 or whatever, all of a sudden it put me in a position where I had to question who I am," McIlroy added to the Independent. "'Who am I? Where am I from? Where do my loyalties lie? Who am I going to play for? Who do I not want to piss off the most?' I started to resent it. And I do. I resent the Olympic Games because of the position it put me in -- that's my feeling towards it -- and whether that's right or wrong, it's how I feel."
The bottom line is that golf in the Olympics, while fun, is not pre-eminent. The reward to McIlroy (and I presume others) is not currently worth the risk (in this case, alienating a group of people). There is no right or wrong answer here for McIlroy -- just a bunch of choices that have varying degrees of consequences.
That he is choosing not to pick sides as an adult (Ireland vs. Britain) is one of a handful of decisions he could make. I respect it. It's unfortunate that we will likely never see the best talent in the game at the Olympics, but I suspect this runs deeper for many people from Northern Ireland than most of us can properly understand.