Friday, September 18, 2020

Independence vote: Scottish team for Rio Olympics?

September 12th, 5:51 pm
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LONDON (AP) — Britain erupted in a frenzy of national fervor when Andy Murray won Wimbledon in 2013. An agonizing 77-year wait for a home-grown men’s champion had finally ended.

It’s a good thing he won it when he did.

If and when Murray wins Wimbledon again, he may not lift the trophy as a British player. And if he successfully retains his Olympic title in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, he may not hear the British anthem as he stands atop the podium.

By then, Murray could be representing an independent Scotland.

“The joke in England has always gone that Andy Murray is Scottish when he loses and British when he wins,” Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper said. “If there is an independent Scotland, the joke is on us.”

Murray’s future status, as well as that of Scottish Olympic athletes, rests on the result of next week’s independence referendum in Scotland. Polls suggest the two sides are running neck-and-neck, presenting a real possibility that Scotland could break away after 307 years as part of the United Kingdom.

Here’s a look at what a pro-independence vote on Thursday could mean for Scottish sports:



Scottish athletes currently compete for Britain — Team GB — in the Olympics. Fifty-five Scottish athletes were part of the British team at the 2012 London Games, about 10 percent of the total. Scots shared in 13 out of a total of 65 British medals, including seven gold. Murray won the tennis gold and Chris Hoy won two golds in track cycling. The others came in team events in canoeing, rowing and equestrian, with Scots competing alongside other British athletes. Hoy is Britain’s most decorated Olympian with six career golds from four games, and was Britain’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony in London.

So what would happen for future Olympics if Scots vote for independence?

The split would become official in March 2016. That’s only a few months before the opening of the Rio Olympics on Aug. 5, posing a tight timetable for sending a Scotland team.

Scotland would need to set up its own national Olympic committee and gain recognition from the International Olympic Committee. The new body would require affiliation with at least five international sports federations. Scotland already meets that criteria easily.

But Scotland would also need to win full ratification as an independent country from the United Nations. It’s not clear how long that could take.

IOC vice president Craig Reedie, who is Scottish, has said it would be “very, very difficult” for an independent Olympic team to be formed in time for Rio. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics could be a more realistic target.

IOC President Thomas Bach has said the interests of Scottish athletes would be protected ahead of Rio if the country secedes.

Some athletes could presumably choose to continue representing Britain. Scots could also compete as “independent athletes” under the Olympic flag, an arrangement applied in the past for athletes from the former Soviet Union, former Yugoslavia, East Timor and South Sudan. Indian athletes marched under the Olympic flag in the opening ceremony at the Winter Games in Sochi while their national committee was under suspension.

Other crucial questions ahead of Rio: How would Scottish athletes go through the Olympic qualifying process? Would the British team pick Scottish athletes in the meantime? What would happen to the funding Scottish athletes currently receive from U.K. Sport and the national lottery? Many Scottish athletes use Olympic training facilities in England — how would they be affected?

Former Scottish first minister Henry McLeish, who conducted a study on the impact of independence on the Olympics, said hopes of setting up a Scotland team for Rio were feasible but “very ambitious.” In any case, he said, athletes should not be shut out.

“The athletes must be allowed a choice of being part of the GB team or part of the Scotland team,” McLeish said on BBC radio.



Andy Murray would become Scotland’s No. 1 player and leave British tennis without a top male contender. It would create the awkward situation of Murray playing as a “foreigner” at the All England Club. He could play under the blue-and-white Scottish flag in Rio, four years after draping himself in the Union Jack while wearing his 2012 gold medal after beating Roger Federer on Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

Murray would also compete for Scotland, instead of Britain, in Davis Cup. Murray’s mother, Judy, currently coaches Britain’s Fed Cup team.

Murray, who grew up in Dunblane, Scotland, but now resides in England, has steered clear of coming out publicly one way or the other on independence. He was castigated in England a few years ago when he jested that he would be supporting “anyone but England” at the 2006 World Cup.

“If Scotland became independent, then I imagine I would be playing for Scotland,” Murray told reporters at the U.S. Open.



With St. Andrews and the Royal & Ancient, Scotland is considered the home of golf. The Ryder Cup will be played in Gleneagles this month, just days after the independence vote. By coincidence, the R&A vote on whether to admit women members will be held on the same day as the referendum.

With golf returning to the Olympics in Rio for the first time in more than a century, players such as Stephen Gallacher and Russell Knox could be competing for Scotland.

What would independence mean for the oldest of golf’s four majors? While it’s known as the British Open in the United States, the tournament is officially called the Open Championship in the U.K. and wouldn’t be affected. The tournament rotates among courses in Scotland and England. It will return to Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland — possibly in 2019 — for the first time since 1951.

“The Open Championship is an international event,” R&A spokesman Malcolm Booth said. “It’s always been held in Scotland and England, and occasionally in Ireland. We’re committed to be in Scotland and England, and we are going back to Ireland.”



Scotland already competes independently in soccer, as do England, Wales and Northern Ireland. (Scotland last qualified for the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championship in 1996). Scotland also has its own domestic soccer league. Independence might put an end to the often-mentioned possibility of Scottish clubs Rangers and Celtic joining the English Premier League.

Scotland and England — bitter soccer rivals — are scheduled to play a friendly at Celtic Park on Nov. 18, two months after the vote. Both sides are planning security measures for what could be a heated atmosphere. England fans shouted obscene chants about Scotland at a European Championship qualifier in Switzerland on Monday. “That’s going to be a very, very spiky game,” England coach Roy Hodgson said.


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