Thursday, October 22, 2009

That's the football sorted, now what about golf and the rugby sevens?

Now that the Team GB football question for the 2012 Olympics has been (Christine Grahame and Sepp Blatter willing) put to rest, time to switch our attention to the next sporting national identity crisis.

In 2016, golf and rugby sevens will be included in the Rio Olympics. Both sports are obviously incredibly popular in all parts of the British Isles and bearing in mind there are only two teams at the Olympics representing what are regarded as five countries by, amongst other sporting organisations, FIFA, you can guess the kind of controversies which will almost certainly arise.

First, an example from golf, a very quickly rising star, Rory McIlroy, from Holywood, Northern Ireland and a British passport holder:
I'd probably play for Great Britain. I have a British passport. It's a bit of an awkward question still. It would be huge to play in an Olympics. I'd love to get an Olympic gold medal one day.
Yet the Golfing Union of Ireland is, as the name implies,an all-island body. In team competitions Northern Irish golfers invariably turn out for "Ireland". However, as in previous Olympics, it will be most probably be left up to the individual and, as in previous Olympics, that means the likes of McIlroy having the choice to opt for either team. And as in very many of those previous cases, that choice will be probably made on purely pragmatic (ie which team it's easier to qualify for) rather than political grounds

The Rugby Sevens throws up a wholly different situation, as outlined here by SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell:
Recognition for Rugby Sevens at the Olympics is a great step but it must not lead to and end to the World Cup.

We have seen with football that the IOC will not allow Scotland to compete as a country in her own right- despite our position in Football as in Rugby as a separate and internationally recognised sporting nation.
The IRB have previously said that the Sevens’ World Cup would be scrapped if the sports were admitted into the Olympics.

Maxwell continues:
If the IRB scrap the World Cup there will be no opportunity left for Scotland’s Sevens team to show their ability to the world in the sports number one event.

Scotland must be allowed to compete at Rugby Sevens top tournament as to block our participation would be a tragedy for Scottish Rugby and a bizarre fate to befall the country that invented the game.” Rugby Sevens was first played in Melrose. The sport has not appeared at the Olympics since 1924.
Surprise, surprise, I do have sympathy for his position here. Despite the wheelings and backroom dealings of Blatter and his sidekick Jack Warner, I felt the fears over a four country Team GB competing in the 2012 Olympics were exaggerated- not to say that the two gentlemen in question would love to see the 4 present votes of England, NI, Scotland and Wales reduced to a single UK one...simply that the presence of a GB team at the Olympics would have a minimal bearing on the issue one way or the other. Post 2012, there will be separate English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh teams competing on the world stage for both the World Cups and European Championships, I’m almost 100% certain of that.

However, Post 2016, it looks very much like there will not be separate teams representing the 4 Home Countries* at the very highest level of Rugby Sevens, if the IRB does decide to do away with the World Cup- that’s the difference between the two situations.

Still, there’s a long way to go yet and to put it bluntly, if the IRB considers its in its financial interest for 4 separate sevens teams to continue to exist at the highest international level, then the World Cup will continue.

* Not quite what the position is with Northern Irish players, under IRB rules they clearly would turn out for an all-island Ireland team, under IOC rules they could qualify for either the Republic’s or the GB’s sevens team

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