Apropos nothing, I got involved in a debate today over the involvement of a British football team in the 2012 Olympic Games. It has dawned upon me over the course of the afternoon that this is a subject that I haven’t tackled on here before, so (stifle your yawns, boys and girls) here we go. Unlike football and rugby, the Olympic games sees the United Kingdom enter a unified team. It always has done. This has created a problem for British involvement in the Olympics football tournament, because the International Olympic Committee won’t let separate English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish teams compete. It has to be, as it stands, a single, unified British team.
The Olympic Football tournament, you may or may not be surprised to know, pre-dates the World Cup by a considerable amount of time. After enormous amounts of tinkering, the IOC and FIFA, they arrived at a solution which allows the competition to be a meaningful competition without threatening the status of the World Cup. Since 1992, it has been an under-23 tournament, with three over-age players allowed per squad. There is no question that there will be a football tournament at the 2012 Olympics, of course. It will be one of the big money-spinners of the whole event, but will the hosts be there?
Well, the British Olympic Association met at the end of September, they confirmed that Britain would be entering a team in 2012, but Wales and Scotland, at least, won’t be having any part of it. They didn’t even turn up for it, concerned that a united British team could lead to their end of their independence. Their reasoning goes that if a UK team takes part, a precedent will be set for a single UK team to play all of the time. FIFA acted quickly. Sepp Blatter confirmed that he wanted a British team to take part, saying, “We have confirmed that the four British associations will not lose their rights and privileges acquired back in 1947. Great Britain will play with one team but it is up to them how they do it. It can be a mixed team, it can be from just one of the home nations, whatever they want to do.”. But still the doubts remain. The “privileges acquired back in 1947” include a permanent place on the IFAB – the board that oversees the international rules of the game. Other countries (particularly those in Africa) resent Britain’s permanent place on this committee, and would be more than happy to see the end of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish teams if they could get a seat at the head table.
Personally, I can’t help but think that their worries are unfounded. There are a lot of reasons to distrust FIFA, but if they were going to leave the FAW, the SFA and the IFA in the lurch, I would have thought that there would be no need for any dishonesty on their part. If FIFA or UEFA wanted to forcibly unite the four home nations into one national team, they would just go straight ahead and do it. They’ve had sixty years since 1947 in which to do it. They don’t need an excuse to do it. All of the four home nations may well fear losing their place on the IFAB, but the continuing guaranteed place on it is morally dubious, to say the least – and, yes, I do include England in this. Interestingly, Hampden Park, Windsor Park in Belfast and the Millennium Stadium have all been listed as venues for the competition. Will the respective associations now withdraw permission for these venues?
I think that, whilst it’s a bit of a shame that they can’t be involved in this, it’s not the end of the world. England can easily enter on their own, and it won’t make any difference to anybody. I do think this, though: I’m a Londoner by birth, and the people of London are paying a hell of a lot of money through increased taxes to ensure that the games go ahead. From an entirely personal point of view, football is the game that I love, and I would like to have a team that I can support playing in it – and, let’s face it, it’s not going to be anything to take too seriously, is it?