Wales continued their recent run of impressive results with an emphatic four-one win over Norway at the Cardiff City Stadium. Goals from Gareth Bale, Craig Bellamy and Sam Vokes earned Wales their fourth win in five games. Whilst the team on the pitch overran their Scandinavian visitors, though, the fans in the ground were largely otherwise occupied, trying to make a stand against Team GB. In recent weeks we’ve seen both Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey pose in the supporter’s kit for Team GB. The reasons why two Welsh players were chosen to exhibit the kit may be imprudent at best and politically motivated at worst. Both players have made their intentions to represent Team GB known and although only Ramsey has made it clear that Wales is his priority, I’m sure Bale feels the same way. The Football Association of Wales has consistently opposed the formation of a Team GB, whilst manager Gary Speed has voiced his concerns regarding the use of his players for a tournament mere weeks before the start of a qualifying campaign. On the face it, a British team competing in the Olympics seems harmless, how serious of a threat can there be to the Welsh national side?
In years gone by, there has been a British team competing at Olympic football, as with most Olympic sports the team was made up of amateur players. The opening up of the competition to professional players in 1984 posed a problem to the home nations, which was overcome by simply not entering a team. With London winning the 2012 bid for the Olympics, the prospect of a British football team was broached by Lord Coe and his devout followers. But why exactly do the home nations not already compete under the British umbrella? The Football Association was formed in 1863 primarily as a means of formalising the rules of football. The Scottish Football Association was formed a decade later to structure the game in Scotland and organise international games against England. A few years after this, the third oldest football association was formed in a pub in Wrexham, which may or may not have been an excuse to keep the pub open past closing time. These three fledgling football associations laid the foundations for football as we know it today.
FIFA was formed in 1904 to oversee the increasing popularity of international fixtures, the football associations of the home nations joined the following year. The relationship between FIFA and the home nations has been somewhat strained, this could be partially attributed to the IFAB remaining the body that determines the laws of the game. FIFA would like to have been responsible for changes made to the laws of the game but the terms of the home nations joining FIFA restricted them to holding only four of the eight seats available on the IFAB, the other four home nations hold the remaining four. The home nations left FIFA after the First World War but were persuaded to rejoin after the Second World War. At this point in time, FIFA was near collapse as income had been minimal over the course of the war as member nations had not paid their membership fees. A match between Great Britain and a ‘Rest of Europe XI’ was staged in an effort to repair FIFA’s financial wounds in 1947. This helped FIFA boost its membership to over eighty countries and set it up to become the bureaucratic football behemoth we know today.
With the exception of matches against Wales and for testimonials, there have only been two matches played by a British football team, the other coming in 1955 to celebrate the seventy fifth anniversary of the Irish Football Association. These matches were purely figurative and bore no weight in challenging the home nations’ independence; they were also staged at a time when FIFA was still largely grateful to have the home nations as members. However, the proposal of a British team competing in the 2012 Olympics, one of which would be made up of professional players, has given weight to the argument that the home nations should not compete individually. There were claims in 2009 that Sepp Blatter had spoken privately to president of the SFA, George Peat, and expressed how a British team would jeopardise the independence of the home nations. When Blatter was asked if FIFA would sanction a British team he replied with “It’s very clear. If they play, there is no sanction”, but such contradiction is part of FIFA’s make-up, these days.
This less than reassuring statement from the FIFA president aside, if he were to come out and claim there was no threat to the home nations, he’d be lying. FIFA is a democratic organisation, and as such they make decisions by the vote of a majority. If two-thirds of FIFA members ruled there should only be one team for the nations of the United Kingdom, then they will use their powers to make it so. It seems unlikely that Wales and the other home nations would be stripped of their independent status as there would be strong opposition, but are we taking this threat too lightly? The Welsh fans at the Cardiff City Stadium made their stance clear; a banner was held aloft that simply said ‘No Team GB’. If opposition like this continues, then the voices of the fans will be heard and hopefully, the future of the Welsh national side will be safeguarded.
One of the concerns I have is that the Welsh fans will turn on those players that do make themselves eligible for Team GB. A contingent of fans waited for the players to exit the Cardiff City Stadium after the Norway game in what was reported to be a barracking of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. According to some that were the actions taken by those fans have, predictably, been exaggerated in the press. And though I cannot speak for all of them, I would hope that the majority would echo my feelings towards Team GB. I don’t want the formation of a team that would jeopardise Wales’ future as a football playing nation, and though it looks like it’s going to happen, I will not criticise Welsh players who want to take part. It is not out of hatred of the other home nations that I oppose a Team GB, it is out of the love for my own country. I hope to follow Wales through the ups and downs for many years to come.
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