McIlroy: Olympic rules give me choice between Britain and Ireland

Rory_300.jpgHe still hasn’t decided, but he remains pro-choice.
We’re talking, of course, about Rory McIlroy, and the awkward situation that awaits him when golf returns to the Olympics at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The prospect of playing for Olympic gold has raised a sticky question for the Northern Irishman: will he represent Great Britain or Ireland in the Games?

No matter which colors he flies, he’s bound to cause a stir.

In an effort to ease the pressure bearing down on the young star, Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said last week that he was looking into Olympic regulations that would spare McIroy from making the tough choice.

According to Dawson, the decision might not be McIroy’s after all.

"Because of Rory's history of playing for Ireland at amateur level and at World Cup level there may be a regulation within the Olympic rules which would determine who would he would have to play for," Dawson said. "We are still looking at the matter but under that regulation he could play under Irish colors.”

Though he didn’t specify the regulation, it appeared that Dawson was referring to the International Olympic Committee’s Rule 41, which lays out guidelines for national representation.

According to Paragraph 1 of the rule, a competitor who is a national of two or more countries may choose to represent any one of them. “However,” the rule states, “after having represented one country in the Olympic Games, in continental or regional games or in world or regional championships recognised by the relevant IF, he may not represent another country unless he meets the conditions set forth in paragraph 2.” (More on Paragraph 2 in a minute,)

Based on that language alone, you’d think that Dawson might be right: because McIroy has played for Ireland in the past, he has to play for Ireland in the future.

But not so fast. Speaking Wednesday from North Carolina, where’s he’s preparing for the Wells Fargo Championship, McIroy said he believes that the choice is still his.

“I mean, I saw I think it's Rule 41 in the IOC states that I still have a choice. It's not like they can take it away from me.”

Which brings us back to Paragraph 2 of Rule 41, which frees a competitor to choose his team provided that at least three years have passed since he last represented a particular nation.

McIlroy last represented a country when he played for Ireland in the 2011 World Cup.

“If you play for a country and then you either change nationality or whatever or if you don't play for that certain country for three years, you still have a choice,” McIlroy said. “I haven't played for anyone, I guess, since 2011, end of 2011 World Cup. Obviously, going into the Olympics that will be five years, so I'll still have a choice.”

It’s a heavy burden, but, for now anyway, McIroy seems willing to bear it.
Then again, as decision time approaches and the pressure mounts upon him, he might change his mind.

In which case we’ll get to see a new Olympic sport: parsing the language of the IOC’s rules. Photo: Getty Images

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by Kevin Cunningham