Team GB Olympic Football: not great for everyone

There is a huge amount of pressure being placed on the various British football associations to allow players from all four home nation organisations to play in a combined team at the 2012 London Olympics. The Prime Minister, the Minister for Sport, the British Olympic Association, the English Football Association and Sepp Blatter all seem to want Team GB to play a part in the Olympic competition but so far the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations have stubbornly stood firm in their opposition to the idea.

They fear that by giving up their independence on this issue, questions might start to be asked about why there are four separate associations within the United Kingdom anyway, each of whom have vote a within FIFA. This may lead to them being subsumed within a British Football Association, which would likely be largely dominated by the former England FA factions.

This is a tricky issue that has political ramifications beyond football.

It is very difficult to assess the issue of nationality and membership of FIFA logically. This is partly due to politics and partly down to fact that FIFA keep moving the goalposts. Before 2005 seemingly any body could apply for membership to FIFA. Some were approved like the Faroe Islands, who are province of Denmark, Hong Kong and Puerto Rico. Others like Greenland, Zanzibar and Tibet were rejected. Since 2005 only members of the UN may apply, which if applied across the board would exclude the British associations from being separate entities.

It is more complex than that for the home nations though. As founding members of the game, each of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations have a vote within IFAB, the governing body of football. FIFA has four votes within IFAB. This gives the British associations huge power and another reason to defend their independence as any compromise on that may lead to a situation where they also lose their vote within IFAB. I have already been clear that I would like to see all power through IFAB passed to FIFA anyway as football is now so international that we now no longer should or deserve to have so many influence on proceedings.

Losing that influence by fully integrating all of the various associations into a combined British system would be tough on the non-English associations though. I believe that many players but particularly the nationalistic and pro-independence fans feel that sport is the only way that they get to show their nationhood. It is only in sport, and mainly in football and rugby, that they are recognised as independent bodies, not part of the United Kingdom, and having this taken away from them would be crushing.

From a Scottish point of view though (of which I am half), I think that, funnily enough, this may be the quickest route to Scottish independence and then rightful membership of FIFA. A lot of people are very indifferent to politics but to have their national team of the national sport integrated into a UK body might push them into furious action.

The questions over a British Olympic football team are, unlike what the Olympic committee are suggesting, a big deal in relation to the future of British football. FIFA seems to have fully embraced the idea of sovereignty and believes that international football should be played between countries who are members of the UN. It is therefore unfair that countries like England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands are allowed to continue to play independently when other such bodies are now excluded. It is easy to see why there is so much opposition to this combined team!

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