The Irish Olympic silver medalist says the three time major winner is the perfect candidate to represent Ireland at this summer's Games
Irish Olympic silver medallist Sonia O’Sullivan says Padraig Harrington is the ideal candidate to represent Ireland at this summer’s Games in Rio.
Harrington, who has won three major championships, steps into the void left by Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell who have all withdrawn their name from consideration. McIlroy and Lowry have both cited concern for the Zika virus, while McDowell is expecting his first child this fall.
Speaking at the launch of the new Always '#LikeAGirl' campaign which encourages young girls to continue playing sport into their teenage years, O’Sullivan said that golf’s reintroduction to the Games hasn’t gone as smoothly as the IOC would have hoped.
"There’s a lot of professional athletes in the Olympics across all sports,” she told Newstalk.com, "It just didn’t connect with golf this year. It didn’t work for them and I think they’ll learn a lot from this and possibly change how they see golf in the Olympics in the future.
"I think it should be a little bit like the way they have soccer, that it’s for Under-23s and then you have a number of professionals in there. They allow top professionals to get the superstars in there. That’s what it’s all about, bringing the world’s top professionals to the Games.
"From my point of view, this has opened the door for Padraig Harrington to go. You know, Padraig and the Olympics works. It’s the right time for him and he’s got the right attitude about it and the right energy about it. He wants to be there. You don’t want to have people there who don’t want to be there.
Sonia O'Sullivan on the podium with her silver medal in Sydney. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
"The time will come when Rory and Shane will want to be there and you just hope [the IOC] haven’t closed the door on it and say that it’s only going to be for amateurs. There will be a time where [McIlroy and Lowry] will want to be there and it’ll mean something to them. But it’s just not this year.”
With concern to the Zika virus, O’Sullivan insisted that athletes travelling to Rio understand the risk and that it has not impacted on the desire of many to represent their country.
"I don’t think [the Zika virus] has put a lot of people off. All the women golfers are going [South African golfer Lee Anne Pace remains the only female golfer to pull out citing the virus], it’s not having any effect on them.
"All the women who were at the Olympics in London [four years ago] on the Irish team are all going. I’ve just been watching the American trials and they’re all trying their guts out to get to the Olympics. I don’t think Zika is to to the forefront of their mind.
"I’ve worked closely with the Irish Olympic team and they’ve gone through the whole process. Everyone knows the risks that are involved. But the risks have been reduced greatly by the time of year and where it’s at. I think you’d be very unlucky to be bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus.”
Sonia O'Sullivan, one of Ireland’s most celebrated athletes and Mum to two teenage daughter, is partnering Always #LikeAGirl to encourage girls across Ireland to keep playing sport. As the world prepares for the 2016 Olympic Games, Always wants to encourage and inspire girls everywhere to Keep Playing #LikeAGirl