Prospects of increasing our medal tally in Rio De Janeiro look bright, though it won’t be without competition, writes Daniel Keenan
On 9th October, it was confirmed that golf and rugby will return to the Olympics at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro World Games. Golf’s campaign to be included was as a result of a lobby formed by top officials and players, while the IRB headed the rugby campaign as part of their global expansion initiative, which includes sending the 2019 World Cup to Japan.
However, both sports have been forced to make concessions to enter the Olympics. Golf will hold no major tournaments over duration of the games, while the Rugby Sevens World Cup has been cancelled completely.
Smaller, more rugby-orientated countries, will certainly be happy with the inclusion of rugby sevens. Indeed, rugby may shake up the medal table, which is dominated by the countries with the largest populations, like China and the US, but neither boast teams of any quality when it comes to rugby. Fiji, though, are a powerhouse of sevens rugby, and will be looking to get their first ever Olympic medals in 2016. New Zealand, too, will be looking to add to the nine medals they won in 2008, while South Africa, who only won one medal in the 2008 games will also be buoyed by rugby’s inclusion.
Golf, though, is a different story. It is a sport primarily dominated by countries from the higher end of the medal table, like the United States and Great Britain. Tiger Woods will surely be looking to claim gold (providing there is no relapse to the injury he sustained to his anterior cruciate ligament) adding another accolade to the American haul. If the present world ranking table is anything to go by, with Americans Phil Mickleson and Steve Striker lying second and third respectively, America will look to claim silver and bronze too.
The entrance of both sports is exciting from an Irish perspective. Padraig Harrington, as he showed with his back-to-back British Open wins and his victory at Oaklands to claim the 2008 PGA Championship, is well capable of challenging for what could become the ultimate prize in golf.
Rugby is going through a golden age in Ireland. Even though it is the 15-a-side game which is prospering, and not the smaller sevens format, there is no reason why Ireland can’t send a strong team to the Olympics. They aren’t completely opposite games and Ireland could field a strong team of upcoming talent and AIB league stars.
The biggest issue in including these sporting codes is the fact that they are two completely male-dominated sports, with little emphasis put on women’s rugby or golf. Unless this is changed in the next seven years, the female participants in these two new sports can expect to get little press time, especially in comparison to their male counterparts.
Despite this though, golf and sevens rugby should make the Olympics a bit more exciting, especially for the smaller countries.