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Page last updated at 12:56 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 13:56 UK

Nations pave way for 2012 GB team


An England football team could play as Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics, following agreement from the other home nations not to block the idea.

A joint letter has been sent to Fifa, which has yet to ratify the proposal, saying that Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales would have no involvement.

But it goes on to say they would not prevent England from fielding a team.

Scottish FA spokesman Rob Shorthouse told BBC Scotland: "I think the English are going to go it alone."

The development should ultimately see the end of a dispute that has raged since 2005, when London won the right to host the Games.

However, any formal announcement or confirmation is not expected until next week at the earliest, and would need to be signed off by the British Olympic Association (BOA) and International Olympic Committee, as well as Fifa.

Football's world governing body had set a deadline of the end of May for the four home nations to come to an agreement over Olympic representation.

Robison praises SFA over Team GB deal

And last-ditch talks between the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish FAs this week has finally led to a breakthrough in the long-running saga.

A document has been prepared by the SFA and sent to the other bodies, which, if followed through, would pave the way for England - rebadged as GB in both the men's and women's competitions - to represent Great Britain on a one-off basis.

This looks likely to be in the form of an exclusively under-21 England side - a change Fifa is expected to make from the current under-23 (plus three overage players) rule.

"The Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh Associations recognise that England want to do this and there'll be no further opposition from them to England taking part as Team UK providing they do not attempt to include any Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish players," said BBC Radio 5 Live's Scottish football reporter Roddy Forsyth.

BBC sports editor Mihir Bose

But the SFA's acceptance of the plan has already led to one member of Scotland's Parliament calling for the resignation of the Scottish governing body's chief executive, Gordon Smith.

SNP MSP Christine Grahame, who chairs the Scottish Parliament's health and sport committee, has called for SFA chief Smith to consider his position, arguing that a Team GB posed a threat to the future of Scottish football and could damage the Scottish economy regardless of whether it was made up entirely of Englishmen.

Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe said that he understood the decision but would have preferred to have seen a representative British team.

"I am disappointed about it because I think it would have been a great opportunity for young players under 23 to experience playing in our great arenas at the Olympics," said Sutcliffe.

Celtic's Robson scoffs at 'Team GB'

"The least I would have expected would be for our association to have allowed that to have happened without any suggestion of any penalty."

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations had feared their independence in world football would be under threat if they united with England at the Olympics.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter has given mixed messages, suggesting at one point that the dispute itself was damaging their position, but those concerns now appear to have been resolved.

"There are a fair number of people within Fifa, principally in the Concacaf Association, who would like to see Britain no longer have four associations and four separate teams," said Forsyth.

"Blatter has said that this particular participation would not threaten that, but he cannot bind his successors and Jack Warner of Concacaf has made it clear that he would pursue this agenda."

The SFA was angry last week with FA chairman Lord Triesman, accusing him of breaking an agreement for the issue to remain confidential until a deal was signed.

And that led to fears the SFA board meeting on Tuesday would reject any move to allow an Olympic team.

However, an agreement was reached amid fears that a continuing row would damage the home nations' international reputations.

"The proposal to let England go it alone has now been put forward to FIFA for their consideration and that will be discussed at the FIFA Congress next week," said Shorthouse.

The silence of the English FA and the BOA is relatively eloquent at the moment although there is an awful lot of work to be done on this before it can be presented as the final step towards a GB team

BBC 5 Live sports news correspondent Gordon Farquhar

"We're absolutely against the four nations playing in a unified team, so Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland's stance hasn't changed.

"We're acknowledging the fact that England are of a mind to put a team forward for the London 2012 Olympics and there's very little we can do to stop them.

"We have to preserve our independent status as a member of Fifa. We are sticking to our guns.

"Our view and the view we will be expressing to the football family around the world is that it's Team GB only in name because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not be involved."

Scotland midfielder Barry Robson does not think the team should be called Team GB if it only contains English players.

The Celtic star, 30, said: "It's not going to be a Team GB if Scotland aren't in it. They'll need to change the name for a start because Great Britain is all of us."

BBC sports news correspondent Gordon Farquhar told 5 Live that the process had been a "tortuous" one but that progress was being made.

"The silence of the English FA and the BOA is relatively eloquent at the moment although there is an awful lot of work to be done on this before it can be presented as the final step towards a GB team," he said.

"It does appear one of the major obstacles has at least been removed at this point."

Spokesman for the No Team GB campaign, Tam Ferry, accused the football associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales of a dangerous U-turn.

"The decision to remove their opposition and thus allowing England to play as Team GB sets a dangerous precedent, which could lead to the end of our identities as independent international football nations," he said.

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