independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Golf chiefs to tell McIlroy he must play for Ireland at Olympics

Rory McIlroy

RORY McILROY is almost certain to play for Ireland and not Great Britain at the next Olympics.

The star golfer's dilemma over who to represent at the 2016 Games was resolved yesterday when world ruling body, the Royal and Ancient (R&A), revealed it was ready to instruct McIlroy and Graeme McDowell to play for Ireland in Rio.

World No 2 McIlroy was so torn by this issue, he suggested last year he might withdraw from the Games rather than have to choose between the two sides, while World No 8 McDowell appealed for the game's governing bodies to make that call.

That plea was answered yesterday when Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of the R&A and president of the International Golf Federation, said Ireland would have first call on the gifted Ulstermen.

"I would very much like to take this burden of choice away from the player if we can possibly do it because it's not fair to him," Dawson said.

"I think he's made it pretty clear in one or two pronouncements that he (McIlroy) is worried about it and the last thing we want is players worrying about this.

"I think, because of Rory's history playing for Ireland at amateur level and, I think, at World Cup level, there may be a regulation within Olympic rules that would require him to stay with that," added the Englishman, one of the most powerful driving forces behind golf's return to the Olympic arena.

"There is a rule in the Olympics that a player who has represented one nation at a previous world championship for a certain country will carry on with them," he explained.

Rule 41 in the Olympic Charter applies to McIlroy, who played for Ireland in the Eisenhower Trophy (amateur golf's world championship) and then twice 'under the Tricolour' with McDowell at the professional World Cup of Golf.

Dawson is committed in his belief that everything possible must be done to ensure a player of McIlroy's enormous stature competes in the 2016 Games.

It's understood Dawson also had discussions with McIlroy, who declined to comment.

Far from feeling aggrieved at being obliged to play for the island of Ireland in Rio, McIlroy and McDowell are likely to be relieved the governing bodies are making moves to take the decision out of their hands.

McIlroy came under fire in Ireland last year when he hinted in an English tabloid he might opt for Team GB, saying he "felt more British than Irish". That comment drew sharp reaction here and McIlroy issued an open letter to fans outlining his quandary.

"I just think being from where we're from, we're placed in a very difficult position," he said at that time. "I feel Northern Irish and obviously being from Northern Ireland you have a connection to Ireland and a connection to the UK . . . there are three options I'm considering very carefully – play for one side or the other or not play at all because I may upset too many people."

Clearly, the R&A is determined to take that latter option off the table.

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