Tuesday, January 30, 2007

State Of The Nations

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?


Anonymous said...

by 2012 Great Britain might not exist. even with a federal britain with an English Parliament, I don't believe an English team or supporters will want to fly the union flag for the rest of them, why should we?

twohundredpercent said...

I'm not concerned by the name, to be honest. I suspect that it will be England, though I doubt very much that there will be no Union by 2012 - recent debates on the subject were influenced more by the 300th anniversary of it than by increased amounts of nationalism in Wales and Scotland.

Gary said...

No you misunderstand ... again ... the FA, SFA, FAW and IFA pre-date Fifa and Uefa by many, many years. They have no way of forcing the four home nations to merge at this moment in time as historical reasons are cited for the UK's four teams.
Once a precedent has been set i.e. a united team, that can be used as a bloody big stick with which to beat the four home FAs.
As for any assurances by Fifa, well ... yes ... nice one ... do you remember Neville Chamberlain's piece of paper?

200percent said...

Gary, you seem to be operating under the apprehension that FIFA want the FA, the SFA, the IFA and the FAW to be forced to merge, and I've simply seen nothing to suggest that there is so much as a grain of truth in that. It might be used as a big stick to make them give up their place on the IFAB, but I can see no earthly justification why "we" should hold a guaranteed place there anyway.

The historical reasons for the four home nations existing separately will be there regardless of the 2012 Olympics and, as has been suggested elsewhere, if the political process of devolution continues in this country, the case for their continuing independence will only strengthen still further.

colin said...

Personally, I'm not too worried. I can't stand nationalism, so I no more give a toss who plays for a British XI than whether some tit on a horse wins a medal by making it dance.

Gary said...

200% - Fifa may not want the teams to merge at at the moment, but these things raise their ugly head every now and then - usually around the time of Fifa presidential elections.
Perhaps being a Welshman, I am more aware of this threat as it wouldn't make much difference to an England fan - after all, the only thing that would happen is that England would change their name to GB & NI and hey presto ... a UK team.

Let's say, sometime in the future, we get a Fifa President who wants to merge what is surely the biggest anomaly in world sport in order to win the votes of a few countries who object to what is, (for the time being) one country four votes ... if we merge for 2012 then he has a precedent ... I, for one, don't want to risk our future for a one-off tournament.

200percent said...

You're quite right, Gary - I don't feel particularly English (and I feel less English than ever when there's a World Cup or a European Championship on - even sense of crushing disappointment has mellowed into chuckling resignation over the last ten years or so), and I might be more inclined to argue the point if I felt anything other than contempt for the England team at the moment.

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