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Scots have had success as part of a British team but future medal hopes are made uncertain by independence question

SO Rory McIlroy has a dilemma as to which country he represents in the next Olympics?

David Florence and England's Richard Hounslow took silver in London to join fellow Scot Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott on the podium. Pictures: Getty
David Florence and England's Richard Hounslow took silver in London to join fellow Scot Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott on the podium. Pictures: Getty

Golf's world No.1 would be eligible to represent either Great Britain or the Republic of Ireland, as he chooses, come 2016. Yet he may not play at all in Rio, "because I may upset too many people".

Well, Scottish athletes also face difficult decisions. Inevitably, many hypothetical questions will be in the mix as we approach the referendum on independence. Just as the mass of Scotland's populace wish to see housekeeping budgets before determining how they vote, questions of a sporting nature fall into focus when one considers McIlroy's dilemma.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former president of the International Olympic Committee, confirmed to me that an independent Scotland would automatically become eligible for full Olympic participation. Clear enough.

Yet unionist axe-grinders have since opined that Scots will remain part of Team GB come 2016, even in the event of a 2014 "Yes" vote. Details like unscrambling sporting bureaucracy – such as Scots currently preparing as UK Sport-funded contenders for Team GB in 2016 – will doubtless be made complex by said unionists. However, history suggests that nations move from independence to Olympic participant very rapidly.

In all, 25 countries were first recognised by the Olympic movement in 1993, mostly due to the break up of the Soviet Union, and more than half made their debut Games appearance a year later. Slovakia became independent in January 1993 and 13 months later competed at the Winter Olympics in Lillehamer; Croatia came into effect in October 1991, and the following year civil war raged as they made their Olympic debut in Barcelona; and Montenegro gained independence in June 2006 and competed at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Transfer of allegiance from GB to Scotland will surely be hardest for team sport competitors, of course. Of 25 Olympic and Paralympic medals won by Scots last year, 18 were with English partners, while of 14 Olympic medals, only three came in individual disciplines.

The rest were in team events, from women's hockey bronze by Laura Bartlett and Emily Maguire to Andy Murray's silver in the mixed doubles with an English partner, and the gold and silver medals won in canoeing by Tim Baillie and David Florence, also with English partners.

The fact that Baillie and Florence have lived a significant part of their lives based in England, to further their sporting careers, raises relevant questions about how they – and others like them – might proceed were future ambitions to include Rio.

Such questions might include what their future allegiance might be? They all hold UK passports. Will they have the right to retain these? Most, after all, are resident in England. Will they wish to become "Scottish" if a consequence were ending access to support which made them Olympic medallists? Will a Scottish government provide equivalent funding? And if it did, would there be the critical mass of quality athletes to find a replacement partner or team of equivalent quality?

Scots have previously defected to England around such issues, notably squash's Peter Nicol and badminton's Robert Blair.

Baillie and Florence, of course, could bury an intense rivalry and team up, since they won canoe slalom gold and silver. Hoy, and compatriots Craig Maclean and Ross Edgar, were, on their day, world beaters in the Olympic team sprint. Witness their ride at the 2006 Commonwealth Games which earned them gold medals.

Team sport followers may consider the prospect of Scotland developing critical mass is slim for such a small nation. We would mention New Zealand and rugby. Or even Montenegro, who won women's Olympic handball silver in London and have not been out of the top five in the world league of men's water polo since qualifying after independence.

Paralympic Scots would face similar decisions. Of 11 medals in 2012, only four were by individual performers. The rest were with English team-mates, and most Scots were based outwith Scotland.

Even Scottish Olympic team selection seems problematic and Commonwealth Games Scotland as a raft of Olympic disciplines that have never been staged in the Commonwealth Games. These include equestrian sports, water polo, modern pentathlon, and sailing – the last notionally a CG sport but unlikely ever to be included.

It would require an entirely new organisation, or a radically restructured CGS to legislate credibly for a Scottish Olympic team. They have never had to consider any Olympic Winter sport.

Independence would unquestionably reinvigorate sports which currently receive little or no funding. Competitors would be inspired by pulling on a Scottish Olympic vest. Yet many face the identity crisis which confronts us all. Scottish or British?

Sporting pangs in an independent Scotland can hardly be anything other than painful.

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