Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington has suggested that there is a “possibly neutral” decision that Rory McIlroy could take regarding who he represents at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Harrington, speaking to Pat Kenny on RTÉ Radio 1, suggested that due to the nature of the qualifying criteria for the Olympics, if McIlroy was to choose to represent Team GB it would open the door for more Irish golfers to participate at the Games.
“I would not like to be in that position,” admitted Harrington.
“One thing I’ve said before - and it has been lost in translation - is that because of the peculiarities of the selection process, if the team were to be selected at this moment and Rory declared for Great Britain, it would mean I get to play.
“If he declared for Ireland, I don’t play. So the most advantageous thing he could do in terms of getting more Irish players in the Olympics is to play for Great Britain.”
"The most advantageous thing he could do in terms of getting more Irish players in the Olympics is to play for Great Britain" - Padraic Harrington
The International Golf Federation (IGF) has proposed an Olympic qualification procedure for both men and women based on world rankings.
A total field of 60 is proposed, with the top 15 in the world rankings automatically qualifying for the Games, regardless of the number of players from a given country.
Beyond the top 15, players would be eligible based on world ranking, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15.
As the world rankings currently stand, presuming McIlroy decided not to declare for Ireland, Team GB would consist of McIlroy (world number one) Luke Donald (world number three), Lee Westwood (world number four) and Justin Rose (world number five).
This means that no golfer from the United Kingdom outside of the top 15 would be eligible to participate in the Games.
Such a scenario could well lead Graeme McDowell (world number 18) to declare for Ireland.
The second Irish spot would then be taken by Harrington (world number 57).
Amongst other players eligible to participate for Ireland are Darren Clarke (world number 105), Michael Hoey (world number 117), Shane Lowry (world number 123) and Peter Lawrie (world number 180).
Harrington added: “It does not cost anyone in Great Britain a place, because they get as many as they like in the top 15 in the world. Once you are outside the top 15 you only get two places. Because I am outside the top 15, and Graeme (McDowell) is ahead of me, if Rory declared for Ireland I don’t get to play.”
“Graeme is in the same position as Rory but, because he is outside the top 15 at the moment, he does not have the option to declare for Great Britain. He would have to declare for Ireland.”
Harrington was not approaching McIlroy’s dilemma from a self-serving perspective, and named a number of players, notably Shane Lowry and Michael Hoey, who would potentially benefit from McIlroy declaring for Team GB.
He was also keen to stress that he is acutely aware of the sensitivities of the situation.
“For a young person who just wants to play sport it’s a horrible position to be in - to have to make this decision. Maybe, as I said earlier, when it comes down to it in four years time it could be myself and Shane Lowry that get in if Rory and Graeme declare for Great Britain.
“I don’t know how people will take that. Would people want two more Irish people to play, and give up the chance of the number one player in the world and the favourite to win the gold medal declaring for (Ireland)?
“It is a very complicated situation that, possibly, the only way he can make a possibly neutral decision is based on the fact that Ireland gets a couple of more guys in. It could be Michael Hoey from Northern Ireland who gets to play for Ireland based on the fact that Graeme and Rory play for Great Britain.”
“If he won gold for Great Britain would we still claim it as an Irish victory? I think we would.”