For anybody who enjoys golf, the sport’s return to the Olympic program at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro is going to be a monumental occasion. It’s been over a century – 112 years when the torch will be lit in Brazil – since 77 golfers from the United States and Canada gathered in St. Louis to play a few friendly rounds.
For two of the today’s top players, however, golf’s resurrection on the world’s stage brings about one of the most difficult decisions of both their personal and professional lives. Even with the Games three years away, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy are already facing the pressures of deciding which flag they’ll play under.
It’s a tale almost as old as time, really. McDowell and McIlroy both hail from Northern Ireland, which is both part of Ireland geographically and part of the United Kingdom politically. While the entire history of religious strife and “the Troubles” is far too long to delve into here, as far as sport has been concerned, there haven’t been many cases that have brought this continued division to light. In theory, at least, McDowell must choose whether to play under a united Irish flag, or the British Union Jack.
At this week’s World Cup at Royal Melbourne, McDowell is playing as a member of the Irish team with Shane Lowry, who is from the Republic of Ireland. McDowell understands that his participation for Ireland may mean that he has to play for them again in Rio, but he also sees the dilemma that his countrymen may have.
“It has been a pretty touchy subject for us Northern Irish players over the last few years,” McDowell said before the World Cup began. “We are in a very unique scenario … we have sporting teams, teams that are all-Ireland teams, teams that are individual Northern Ireland teams, part of the U.K., part of Great Britain.
“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 … you are going to end up upsetting someone from either side really.”
That last part is the key. McIlroy has even gone so far as to state earlier this year that he was giving serious thought to skipping the Olympics to avoid the situation altogether, and that would be the biggest shame of all. The Olympic movement is about bringing nations together in sport, but now these two stars find themselves in a no-win situation. No matter who they end up playing for, what’s most important is that they are excellent ambassadors of the sport and can help grow the game on the world’s stage.