When Issues of Cultural Identity Transcend Sports

Sep 23, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Rory McIlroy (IRL) hits from the 9th tee during the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

When it comes to identifying with one’s cultural identity, many things play a role. Within lacrosse, athletes haven’t had to deal with this kind of discussion other than the Iroquois Nationals. Here’s a look at how another sport has been affected. Golfer Rory McIlroy, currently the top-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking, is struggling with perceptions swirling around him over his choice of nation and cultural identity.

Who to Play For?

Recent remarks attributed to the golfer suggested that the Northern Ireland born-and-raised golfer might consider playing for Great Britain in the 2016 Olympics, as Northern Ireland is under Great Britain rule. The Irish Central summed up the situation thusly:

“Until now, McIlroy has been an international man of mystery. He never quite said where he stands on the Olympic issue and which team he will play for in Rio. That’s why his interview with the English golf writer Derek Lawrenson this week has caused such a stir. In the interview, conducted during a practice round before McIlroy continued his hot streak with victory in the BMW Championship, Rory declared that he has always felt more British than Irish. The paper Lawrenson works for, as you would, then concluded that McIlroy is now most likely to declare his Olympic allegiance to Britain.”

A Kingdom Divided

As a result, a discussion has arisen about which country Mcllroy feels closer to — Ireland or Great Britain — and is causing a swirl around cultural identity issues.  Some people worry about identity protection from Internet-related activity, but how does a person consider a different cultural identity?

At the heart of the debate is the fierce nationalistic feelings both Irish and British people have, and how the strife in Northern Ireland over the past 50 years has contributed to strong emotions attached to each. But even more onerous was Mcllroy discussing Olympic possibilities that are still four full years away, a mistake noted by the Irish Central sports columnist.

When it comes to team sports, such as lacrosse or soccer, there is no ambiguity as to what country the team represents. But with an individual sport like golf, a person with multiple ethnic backgrounds is put into a tricky situation.

All for One

All in all, it seems a moot point to even consider Olympic-playing possibilities for a particular country in four years’ time. And for the moment, Mcllroy has backtracked from leaning in any particular country direction at the moment. He told the UK’s Newsletter “I am a proud product of Irish golf and the Golfing Union of Ireland. I am also a proud Ulsterman who grew up in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. That is my background and always will be. I receive great support from both Irish and British fans alike and it is greatly appreciated.”

In a world increasingly tied together by Internet speed and lessening cultural distinctions, Mcllroy’s remarks have drawn some attention from sports types and non-sportsmen alike. The golfer felt compelled to write a full-length letter on Twitter declaring he hasn’t made any decision regarding a country of choice for the 2016 Olympics. Maybe the best respite is that we should all step back and consider our own heritage and which qualities of our country have imbued our own individual spirit. From that, we might be able to empathize in larger discussions of country significance and national leadership.

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