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Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

GB 'will enter Olympic football'

Argentina won gold in the football tournament at Beijing 08
Argentina won gold in the football tournament at Beijing 08

A Great Britain football team will play at the 2012 Olympics even if it is made up entirely of English players, sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe has insisted.

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations are opposed to a joint squad in case it affects their independent national sides.

Sutcliffe is eager to have the "widest representation" from the UK.

But he admitted to MPs it may be that only the English FA would let its players compete in the tournament.

Speaking in a debate at Parliament's Westminster Hall, Sutcliffe said: "What a farce it would be to have those qualification games in Wales and Scotland without the possibility of British participation."

Asked if a purely English team would take the field if the associations in the other home nations boycotted the event, he added: "That is correct and that is the sad fact of what is going to happen unless we can try and resolve this issue."

Sutcliffe revealed that football's international ruling body Fifa had given written assurances that a UK side in 2012 would not affect the national teams.

If there is an insistence on having UK representation, why not allow all four UK teams to compete?

Craig Brown

But he acknowledged "there has always been and will continue to be a threat to that individuality because of the way Fifa is evolving", irrespective of the 2012 issue.

The debate was opened by the SNP's Pete Wishart, who said participation in the "meaningless" Olympic soccer competition could jeopardise the future of the Scotland national side.

He said: "We should do absolutely nothing that would ever threaten our independent football status.

Liberal Democrat Olympics spokesman Tom Brake backed a joint team but called for "much more solid assurances" from Fifa.

Wishart argued that the situation could be remedied by allowing Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to compete as individual teams.

606: DEBATE

This idea was backed by former Scotland manager Craig Brown, who was in Westminster Hall to watch the debate.

He said: "If there is an insistence on having UK representation, why not allow all four teams to compete?

"Football is already a special case in the Olympics because it discriminates by only allowing players under 23 to compete, so why not allow the four sides from the UK?"

Responding to Sutcliffe's comments, Scottish Football Association head of communications Rob Shorthouse said: "As has been made clear time and again, the Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are unified in their opposition to Team GB.

"Any politician who continues to push the agenda of a such a damaging venture should do so in the knowledge that they are going against the wishes of the majority of the football family in the UK."

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see also
Scots FA oppose MSP Olympic input
04 Mar 09 |  Internationals
Ferguson dismisses Olympic role
30 Jan 09 |  Olympics
Salmond rejects UK football team
25 Aug 08 |  Scotland
MSPs clarity call on 2012 GB team
03 Mar 09 |  Scotland
Blatter against British 2012 team
09 Mar 08 |  Football
Government backs GB football team
04 Mar 08 |  Football
Home nations dispute GB 2012 team
30 Oct 07 |  Football


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