RORY McILROY is one of the most recognisable and popular sportsmen on this island but his declaration of intent to represent Britain in the 2016 Olympics, should golf be accepted at next week’s vote of the IOC, is likely to lose him friends on the southern side of the border.
“I’d probably play for Great Britain,” he says. “I have a British passport. It’s a bit of an awkward question. It would be huge play in an Olympics and I’d love to get an Olympic medal one day.”
Golf, of course, is a 32 county sport. The men’s game is governed by the Golfing Union of Ireland, the women’s by the Irish Ladies Golf Union. The teams are known simply as Ireland – that is, until the players turn professional and suddenly the European Tour for reasons best known to itself labels those from the north as “Northern Ireland” even though there is no such entity in the game of golf.
When Rory McIlroy from Holywood, Co Down, and Graeme McDowell from Portrush, Co Antrim, tee it up in the World Cup of Golf in China next month, they will be representing Ireland just as Ronan Rafferty and David Feherty, both Downmen, have done when forming the team in the past.
It was perhaps ill-advised and much too early for McIlroy to voice an option for “Team GB” seven years ahead of golf’s possible reinstatement as an Olympic sport. A great deal could change in that time. Even now, if the Olympics were held next week,
Graeme McDowell has so far remained non-committal. After the International Olympic Committee’s executive board proposed golf and rugby should be included in 2016 at a meeting last month, he stated: “It’s a strange one. Golf’s an all-Ireland sport. I’d play for anyone. I’ve never been able to explain why golf’s an all-Ireland sport and rugby’s an all-Ireland sport but soccer is two different teams. It would be an honour to represent your country and I don’t mind which one I play for.
“It’s the biggest sporting event on the planet. I’d love to be involved in it, love to win a gold medal. It’severy young man’s dream, huge for golf around the world. Golf needs to go to the masses. I’m not a fan of golf being an elitist sport. Fingers crossed I get a chance to do it.”
It is a little ironic that golf and rugby should be up for inclusion in the Games at the same time because these are the sports that have historically unified Ireland. In due course, though, McDowell and McIlroy may have to state an allegiance, like so many from Northern Ireland have had to do before them.
At the Beijing Olympics, Wendy Houvenaghel won a cycling silver medal for team GB while boxer Paddy Barnes captured Ireland’s first medal of the Games.
The R & A, the game’s governing body, used to label Ulster golfers as “United Kingdom” when announcing the draw for the British Open Championship. Nowadays, they follow the European Tour and settle for “Northern Ireland”.
Their chief executive, Peter Dawson, says of the Olympic conundrum: “It’s a question that has yet to be resolved but I suspect that giving the players the choice is the likely outcome.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved