Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Graeme McDowell answers Ireland's Olympic call

Looking ahead: Graeme McDowell at Royal Melbourne
Looking ahead: Graeme McDowell at Royal Melbourne

For Graeme McDowell the Olympic debate is over... for Rory McIlroy it rages on.

With McDowell playing for Ireland in this week's World Cup of Golf in Australia, it effectively means he will represent the same nation in Rio 2016.

All he wants now is to be playing well enough to be selected for the greatest show on earth when it comes around.

As McDowell, like McIlroy, hails from Northern Ireland, he could have chosen Team GB or Ireland, but rules state that if an athlete represents one country in an event recognised by the relevant international federation, in this case the International Golf Federation, three years must pass before they can represent another in the Olympics.

There is less than three years to go to Rio, therefore McDowell will be in Irish colours come 2016.

Ahead of the World Cup tournament in Melbourne, where he partners Shane Lowry, McDowell appeared relieved that, for him at least, this thorny issue had been resolved.

He said: "It did not enter into my reasons for wanting to be here this week but I believe that me being here and representing Ireland will, with the Olympic regulations, mean that I will have to play for Ireland when it comes to the Olympics in 2016.

"It is a very touchy political and religious subject, one that myself and Rory have not really enjoyed answering questions about the last few years because it is very difficult to pick a side as you are going to end up upsetting someone from either side.

"We grew up wanting to wear the green jacket and have the golf bag with the Ireland logo on it.

"The Golf Union of Ireland looks after all the players in Ireland and I have always enjoyed being part of that.

"When it comes to the Olympic discussion, that raises some questions as to who we play for.

"I was always very much trying to sit on the fence, again, because I really did not want to have to make that decision so part of me feels relieved to not have to make that decision."

G-Mac and Rory have played together previously for Ireland at the World Cup, though not since 2011, so the three year rule won't apply to McIlroy by the time Rio's opening ceremony takes place.

While Holywood's McIlroy and Portrush native McDowell are the two men at the forefront of the discussion, and have been ever since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decreed that fairways and greens would be as much part of the Rio Games as track and field, who is to say it won't impact on other Ulstermen, should say Michael Hoey, Garth Maybin or Darren Clarke have outstanding success in the run up to the selection process?

It's an awkward position for our golfers, though McIlroy is adamant that he will make his own call on who he represents.

Earlier this year, having clearly done his homework, McIlroy said: "I think it's rule 41 in the IOC that states that I still have a choice.

"It's not like they can take it away from me. If you play for a country and then you either change nationality or whatever, if you don't play for that country for three years you have a choice.

"I haven't played for anyone since 2011, in the 2011 World Cup. Going to the Olympics that would be five years, so I still have a choice."

There is the possibility he won't go to Rio at all, though the smart money is on him appearing at the Games and being one of the biggest names alongside athletics heroes Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, tennis stars Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray as well as Tiger Woods from his own sport.

Of course, unless Rory improves his form somewhat he won't make the Irish or GB team, for which Ian Poulter and Luke Donald are certs on current form.

There is a theory that if McIlroy did choose Team GB, it would leave a space open for another Irishman to make it to the Olympics with Ireland.

Hardly a strong enough reason to pick GB, and one unlikely to be given if he does.

In any case due to the success of Irish golfers in recent years it'll be just as hard to get on the Ireland team as the GB one.

No matter who G-Mac or Rory play for in Rio, the public here should be right behind them in their bids to bring gold home... to Northern Ireland.

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