McIlroy's Olympic saga: "I still have a choice. It's not like they can take it away from me"

Rory McIlroy speaks to the press at Quail Hollow. If you think last week’s statements by International Golf Federation President Peter Dawson will take Rory McIlroy’s 2016 Olympic Games decision out of his hands, think again.

Quoting the Olympic Charter, McIlroy believes the choice will be his in the end and went as far as saying: “It’s not like they can take it away from me.” 

Not quite. The IOC’s Executive Committee has the power to decide and may well uphold Dawson’s tentative suggestion that as McIlroy will be tied to Ireland given his amateur career and two World Cup appearances for Ireland. And while McIlroy could well challenge that in the courts, it’s unlikely.

In related news, he won’t be representing Ireland in the World Cup for a third time this year. And that could be significant.

For a man who wanted the decision taken out of his hands, McIlroy certainly did little to meet Dawson halfway when asked at Quail Hollow about the comments made by the IGF head at St Andrews last week.

“I think it’s Rule 41 in the IOC states that I still have a choice,” McIlroy said when asked about Dawson’s attempt to save him from an impossible dilemma. “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 or if you don’t play for that certain country for three years, you still have a choice.  

“I haven’t played for anyone, I guess, since the 2011 World Cup.  Obviously, going into the Olympics that will be five years, so I’ll still have a choice.”

He also has a choice when it comes to this year’s World Cup and it appears that Graeme McDowell will be looking for a new partner after representing Ireland with McIlroy in 2009 and 2011. When asked if he’d be teeing it up in China at the end of the year, McIlroy said simply: “No.”

There’s a back story to that, of course, given the Dawson’s theory on who McIlroy could be representing in Rio, should he wish to compete, based on his amateur career with Ireland and appearances for Ireland in the World Cup of Golf.

One of the prime movers behind golf’s return to the Olympic Games as well as Chief Executive of the ruling body the R&A, Dawson said last week:

“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,” the Englishman said.

“It’s quite ambiguous really but 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.”

Dawson added: “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. I think he’s made it pretty clear in one or two pronouncements that he’s worried about it and the last thing we want is players worrying about this.”

Rule 41 in the Olympic Charter says an athlete can change country if he hasn’t represented another country in international competition or a world championship (ie World Cup in this case) for three years.

How that applies to Ireland, Northern Ireland and golf remains to be seen and the IOC’s Executive may rule that McIlroy has not technically changed country must play for Ireland in Rio.

McIlroy does not believe that Dawson has done him any favours by putting this already controversial issue back on the table and hinted last year that he may skip the Olympics altogether if the decision becomes too controversial.

Asked if last week’s news could make life easier, McIlroy said: “No, not really.  I think the more it’s talked about, the more it’s just going to get blown up.  

“So I’d rather not really talk about it until the time that I have to decide what to do.”

If Dawson’s theory is upheld by the IOC, playing for Ireland in this year’s World Cup could prevent McIlroy from representing Great Britain in Rio.

Under the three-year rule, he would only have two years and eight months between this year’s World Cup in China and the start of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Given the way the issue is panning out, it appears more likely than ever right now that McIlroy will be forced to carry out his threat and skip the Olympic Games.

First asked during the 2009 US PGA at Hazeltine about golf in the Olympics, McIlroy innocently blurted out that he’d love to win a gold medal. Whether he hinted strongly that he wanted to do so for Team GB or not is a matter of interpretation:

“If I’m lucky enough to be on Team GB or whatever, it would be great, like Tom Daley, the diver. It would be great if he won a gold medal there and I was able to watch it and be part of a team.  It would be awesome.” Rory McIlroy when asked in August 2009 about golf’s potential Olympic Games return.

As for the issue of drugs in golf and Vijay Singh’s acquittal on a breach of the anti-doping code for taking banned “Deer Antler Spray”, McIlroy reckons the PGA Tour got the decision spot on.

He said: “My stance on it is Vijay didn’t know he was doing anything wrong, and if there’s no intention there, then I don’t see any reason to unfairly punish him, I guess.”

But he did agree that testing procedures in golf needed to be tightened up and brought into line with other Olympic sports.

Pointing to the regular, out of competition dawn drugs tests carried on girlfriend and tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, the most recent one coming just days ago, he said: “They woke us up in Monaco about 6:00 o’clock last week.

“Most other professional athletes have to fill out a whereabouts form that is three months in advance. So if we’re going to be part of the Olympics, it’s something that we’ll have to do too, and I completely don’t mind that at all.  I think it’s a good thing keeping the sport clean.”

The Olympic Charter