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Why is there no GB Olympic football team?

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England's Wayne Rooney, Northern Ireland's David Healy, Scotland's Barry Ferguson and Wales' Jason Koumas
Four into one - will the home nations play together in 2012?

By Phil Harlow

The 16-team Olympic men's football tournament kicks off on Thursday, with some of the world's leading names, like Brazil's Ronaldinho, lining up as additions to Under-23 squads.

But, as with every Games since 1964, there is no side from Great Britain - Olympic champions in 1908 and 1912 - involved.

Lord Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Authority, is one of those who wants to see a Great Britain team competing again.

"We must have a team at the 2012 Games, and we will have a team," he says.

Not everybody sees things quite the same way though.

So what are the ramifications of a Great Britain Olympic football team? And why is the very idea of one proving so divisive?

WHY ARE OLYMPIC OFFICIALS KEEN FOR A GB FOOTBALL TEAM?

With football dominating the sporting landscape in Britain, the BOA believes it is one way of helping to increase the level of support for the London 2012 Games.

BOA chairman Lord Moynihan
We would expect a Great Britain team to be strong medal contenders and generate tremendous excitement throughout the country

BOA chairman Lord Moynihan
What better way to convince sceptical Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish sports fans that they should take an interest in the Olympics than to provide them with a football team to get behind?

"The impact of a British team on the public and their support of the Games will be enormous," said Lord Moynihan.

Additionally, there is the not insignificant fact that the BOA - committed to a target of finishing at least fourth in the table in 2012 - sees football as capable of delivering a medal.

"We would also expect a British team to be strong medal contenders and thereby generate tremendous excitement throughout the country," added Moynihan.

And the British government - which will spend billions of pounds of taxpayers' money to stage the Games - is very much in favour of the idea.

Andy Burnham, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said: "The idea of seeing a British football team is something I feel very excited about.

"It would be a great thing and, while we are proud of our individual traditions as home nations, coming together for this one-off event to play together as Great Britain is something I believe the public would enjoy.

606: DEBATE
Dan W - BBC Sport
"I just hope we can overcome any differences and bring a strong British football team to the London Olympics."

And the International Olympic Committee, which gave the Games to London ahead of the likes of Paris and Madrid, would also like to see the host nation taking part in as many sports as possible.

"The IOC would be delighted to see a British football team participating in the Olympic Games," a spokeswoman told BBC Sport.

"We are hopeful that a solution will be worked out between the national associations, the BOA and Fifa for London 2012."

WHAT ARE THE OBSTACLES?

The football governing bodies of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are all opposed to the notion of a Great Britain team, fearing the implications for their own futures as separate entities.

They fear that participating as Great Britain - even for a one-off at the Olympics - would see them coming under pressure to allow their individual identities to be subsumed for all international football.

Officials at their respective football associations are adamant that they will not allow that to happen, and mixed messages from Sepp Blatter - president of world football's governing body Fifa - have only added to their disquiet.

Asked by BBC Sport to confirm and clarify its position, Fifa issued a curt statement.

Lord Moynihan can huff and puff as much as he likes

IFA chief executive Howard Wells
"As the Fifa president has stated on several occasions, a British Olympic football team would not affect at all the privileges of the four British associations as members of Fifa," it read.

But Blatter had a somewhat different message back in March.

"If you start to put together a combined team for the Olympics, the question will automatically come up that there are four different associations so how can they play in one team," he said.

"If this is the case then why the hell do they have four associations and four votes and their own vice-presidency?

"This will put into question all the privileges that the British associations have been given by the Congress in 1946."

Hardly the reassuring words that might help to placate officials in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

"We always said we had an open mind about it, on the proviso that there would be some kind of meaningful statement from Fifa," Northern Ireland Football Association (IFA) chief executive Howard Wells told BBC Sport.

"That hasn't happened, so Lord Moynihan can huff and puff as much as he likes.

Terry Butcher commiserates with Grant Johnson after an incident at Wembley in 1988
The home nations have a long history of intense rivalry
"I had assumed the BOA would respect our position, but that doesn't seem to be the case. What's the point of cobbling together a team for a one-off event?

"And it's fair to say that I don't think it's very helpful for us to hear all this through the media."

Scotland Football Association (SFA) chief executive Gordon Smith is similarly sceptical about the need for a Great Britain team.

"We have a board who have looked at it, and the vote was that we don't want to take part," Smith told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Football is autonomous for the home nations. We have our own leagues and our own international teams.

"The Olympics is not a major football event, but people might use it to tell us we have to compete as Great Britain in other tournaments."

And the Football Association of Wales (FAW) president Peter Rees added: "We remain totally opposed to any Welsh involvement in a Great Britain side at the Olympics.

"Imagine the next Fifa meeting after London. You'd get people saying: 'They have always said they are four separate nations, but they were Great Britain for the Olympics - why should it not be the same for the World Cup?'"

WHAT ABOUT ENGLAND THEN?

With London hosting the 2012 Games, the English Football Association (FA) has been markedly more enthusiastic in its support for a British team.

"The FA is in favour of a GB football team for the London Olympics in 2012," an FA spokesman told BBC Sport.

"As hosts, a GB team would automatically qualify for the competition and we feel it is very important to take part when the Games are in our own country. Ideally, we'd like to be part of a team represented by all four home nations."

SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

British Olympic officials have their hands full for the next few weeks but talks will kick off again soon after Beijing is out of the way.

"We will talk with all the stakeholders," said a BOA spokeswoman.

"[BOA chief] Simon Clegg is in Beijing but he will treat this as one of his priorities when he returns."

If we look back to when Vivian Woodward - an architect by trade but a Tottenham centre-forward in his spare time - led "Great Britain" to the Olympic football title back in 1908, they were simpler times.

"Great Britain" and "England" seemed to be almost interchangeable terms.

"This match was played on the grass in the middle of the stadium, the English team being amateurs being chosen by the Football Association," reads a casual reference to the composition of the side in the official write-up of the 1908 Games.

And with the SFA and the FAW remaining hostile, and the IFA - while still willing to talk - becoming increasingly disgruntled, the possibility of a nominal "Team GB" once again being made up solely of English players is very much on the cards.


see also
Ferguson not keen on London role
25 Jul 08 |  Football
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
GB football team to enter Games
30 Sep 06 |  Football
Wales oppose GB Olympic football
06 Dec 05 |  Internationals
Coe hopeful on GB football team
12 Dec 05 |  Internationals
Fifa green light for 2012 GB team
01 Sep 05 |  Football
Premier League backs 2012 GB team
20 Jul 05 |  Olympics 2012
Beckham keen on GB football team
05 Jul 05 |  Olympics 2012
FA wants GB team in 2012 Olympics
06 Jul 05 |  Olympics 2012
1908 Olympics in photos
26 Apr 08 |  Olympics
Photos of 1908 memorabilia
26 Apr 08 |  Olympics
BOA bullish on 2012 medal target
20 Feb 07 |  Olympics 2012
Country profile: United Kingdom
08 Jul 08 |  Country profiles


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