So the games of the XXIXth Olympiad have finished at last and we can now get back to concentrating on football……but it seems that over the next four years Olympic football will be very much in the news.
The reason is that the selection of London for the next games gives rise to the possibility of a Great Britain team playing in the football tournament. It won’t be the first time that a team representing Great Britain participated at the Olympics of course – GB won the gold medal in 1908 & 1912 when represented by the English amateur team. They also won gold in 1900 when represented by Upton Park FC. (no NOT West Ham!!!) In fact Great Britain have been represented at the Olympic football tournament 8 times, the last time being in 1960. At the London games of 1948 they finished fourth – their goalkeeper a young Ronnie Simpson who went on to win the European Cup with Celtic nearly 20 years later.
But the British participation has become something of a controversial issue. Presently GB don’t have the opportunity to qualify because UEFA uses the Under 21 European Championship for its qualifiers – a tournament that the home nations enter individually, and it is that individual nation status that is causing the problems. Scotland particularly have registered their opposition. They firmly believe that taking part in a united British team is the thin end of the wedge in losing their independent country status.
They have good reason to be worried. Sepp Blatter – yes him again (sigh…) – said in 2005 “We have confirmed in writing that they have to provide a Great Britain team for the 2012 Olympics, but the four British associations will not lose the rights and privileges acquired back in 1947.”
Sounds good…but then in March this year the same Sepp Blatter suggested… “They should enter only a team composed of players from England, this will then not provoke a long and endless discussion of the four British associations.” Once again the head of FIFA showing his incompetence and his indecision. Is it any wonder the Scots are worried? Why “England” after all? Why didn’t he say Wales or Scotland? Mr Blatters perception is that “Britain” and “England” are the same thing. Perception though is not fact.
Theres no doubt that the individual status of each of the home countries is precarious. Then British Home Secretary Jack Straw has already put forward the idea that the home nations should play as one in all competitions. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last. Former sports minister Tony Banks said the same thing. Both of course are Englishmen. You don’t seem to hear of many Welsh or Scots folk embracing the idea. That’s because they still cling to their national identity. One Scot who does like the idea is Walter Smith the Rangers manager. But then given that Rangers fans are known for waving the union flag and proudly singing British anthems such as God Save the Queen & Rule Britannia at matches, its hardly surprising that he is in favour – toe the party line and all that.
Mr Blatter would do well to remember that FIFA’s own statutes acknowledge Britain as four separate countries. Not as one.