Kingdoms disunited over British Olympic football team
A precedent in the long-running dispute over whether hosts Great Britain will field a football team at the 2012 Olympic Games in London could be set at next year’s Paralympic Games in China.
Senior sources in British football claim a Great Britain (GB) five-a-side team could be entered in Beijing next year without any consultation with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
England are organising a 2012 Olympic team but the Scottish and Welsh associations will not take part without written confirmation from FIFA that it will not affect their independence. The Irish Football Association representing Northern Ireland have not made a decision either way but could join Wales and Scotland if a GB team plays in Beijing without consultation.
Football associations in the dark
IFA chief executive Howard Wells told Play the Game: “We’ve been waiting for a response from the British Olympic Association since March 2006.
“We were supposed to be getting written confirmation from FIFA but we’ve had no further correspondence. We’re completely in the dark and the whole thing is totally unsatisfactory.
“If the FA think we’re going to make some last-minute decision, they are in cloud cuckoo land.
“Without the support of all four home nations, it brings into question what the purpose of Britishness in sport is all about, whether it’s an outmoded concept.”
Political pressure to form GB team
Great Britain has not fielded a team in the Olympics since 1972, when a mainly English side lost 5-1 over two legs to Bulgaria in a qualifier.
After that match, the associations in the Home Nations gave up any pretence of football being amateur at any level and this precluded any GB sides from then entering future Olympics.
After London won the competition to host the 2012 Olympics, football was included and England’s Football Association could come under political pressure if they refused to support proposals for a GB team in five years.
FA head of media Andrin Cooper says: “It’s not a well known fact but football is the best attended event in the Olympics. Our view is it would be a desperate shame not to give able bodied players and disabled players in the Paralympics a chance to play.”
Fans unite against Team GB
In a rare show of support, the associations in Scotland and Wales and fan groups have all come out against the proposals for a GB team.
A campaign against the idea that is also backed by fan groups in England and Northern Ireland has been launched.
The No Team GB campaign is backed by the Association of Tartan Army Clubs (ATAC), England’s Football Supporters Federation, Cymru FSF and the Green & White Army from Northern Ireland.
ATAC spokesman Tam Ferry says: “The Olympic football competition is a low profile competition that no-one in this country has ever shown any interest in.
“Who can remember the winners? None of the fan groups want to be part of anything which might jeopardize the future of our national teams.”
The No Team GB campaign found easy allies in the Scotland Football Association and the Football Association of Wales, which quickly came out against a GB Olympic side.
Nations keen to protect their independence
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and head of the Scottish National Party, wants a Scots Olympic team. Unless he can force through independence, the International Olympic Committee will never allow that, so the Scots FA must do all they can to defend the independence Scotland has on the football field.
Even the players in Wales are against the GB team and FSF Cymru is planning a photo-shoot later this year featuring Welsh players for the No Team GB campaign.
Paul Corkrey, secretary of FSF Cymru, says: “We are very much opposed to a joint GB team for the London Olympics, along with our friends from Scotland. England fans are less concerned, Northern Ireland are also not too worried.”
Northern Ireland seems unlikely to provide any members of a GB squad let alone a team in 2012 but the Northern Ireland FA did attend an initial meeting with the English FA about the idea and have made no firm commitment either way.
If a GB team was fielded in the five-a-side event in next year’s Paralympics, the IFA would seem certain to join their counterparts in Scotland and Wales and unite in disagreement with the FA, leaving Soho Square looking very isolated.
Steve Menary is a British freelance journalist, who is a regular contributor for amongst others, When Saturday Comes, World Soccer & Panstadia magazines. He will be speaking at Play the Game 2007, and is due to launch a book, Outcasts! the lands that FIFA forgot, later this year.