The first ever Great Britain football team for over 40 years, took centre stage last week as England U-21 coach Stuart Pearce was selected as Head coach by the English F.A, leaving everyone associated with the project, slightly perplexed.
The rather controversial and much talked about Team GB to be represented at the 2012 Olympic Games, has drawn strong opposition from leading figures within the game, with many of the opinion that a unified team will create major repercussions for the Home Nations involved.
Football Association’s from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have stated their position quite clearly that they have no intention to proceed with fielding a British team in the 2012 Olympics and have vetoed any proposed plans to go ahead with Team GB, fearing their independent status’ within FIFA could be jeopardised.
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have independent Football Association’s, even though they are not sovereign nations. Each country is recognised by FIFA as a separate entity, as it’s a prize and privelege enjoyed by the nation that created the beautiful game. A single unified UK Football Association has never existed and although there has been no official statement by FIFA on this issue, there is a fear among the other UK member executives that their independence and FIFA privileges will be revoked, should the English FA persist with the concept of Team GB.
There is a case to argue whether such privileges hold much weight within the upper echelons at FIFA. The 2018 World Cup bid highlighted how little influence England has at FIFA, and so losing a position on the eight-member International Football Association Board (IFAB), which is the game’s law-making body, is hardly going to make much difference to England Chairman David Bernstein – already seen as a pariah for speaking out against FIFA President Sepp Blatter. However, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland see things differently and are of the opinion that ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ Independent status is seen as a privilege so why should they jeopardise those rights on England’s say so.
It puts the English F.A in a difficult position, as they have clearly been rail-roaded in to the idea by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the British Olympic Association (BOA), who themselves faced the wrath by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, when they hastely announced that an ‘historic agreement’ had been reached with all the Home Nations to field a Great Britain team at the Olympics. A statement, which was angrily denied. A collective statement issued by the dissenting associations said: ‘The Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reiterate our collective opposition to Team GB participation at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, contrary to the media release issued by the BOA.’
Ouch! Hardly a vote of confidence.
Is a UK football side really a bad idea?
Well, for a start, the timing could not have been worse.
With the European Championships also taking place just before the Olympics, the jam-packed football calendar in 2012 means it would be near impossible for the players selected, to play a full season, participate in the European Championships and also represent the GB flag at the Olympics, which comes less than four weeks before the first match. Despite the F.A making it clear that those selected for Euro 2012 will not be picked for Team GB, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has warned the dangers of playing too much football, stating that ‘something has to give’. An opinion shared by his old advisary, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who mocked the idea and found it inexplicable. ‘I don’t view football as an Olympic sport’, he said, ‘It’s only for track and field’. Many wouldn’t disagree with Wenger, as Olympics football has never really been that sought after as compared to the World Cup or European Championships.
It seems that the dismal performances of England’s national side in recent tournaments appear to be the driving force and motivation behind Team GB, as it might be their best chance of laying their hands on silverware in the near future. But surely the only way to improve performances in major tournaments, is allowing sufficient time for players to rest and recuperate, something which has been commonly argued by Ferguson and Wenger, many times.
The fundamental problem with Team GB is the idea of selecting players based on nationality and not merit, which is the definitive principle of any sport. We saw how sport rose against Apartheid South Africa and how talent prevailed over race, and although this may be less trivial and on a much smaller scale, the same principles still apply.
Team GB will consist of players under the age of 23 with 3 invitational spots. Of those selected, it is fair to say a bulk of the representatives will hail from England. Apart from Wales captain Aaron Ramsey and winger Gareth Bale, you will struggle to find any players from Scotland or Northern Ireland who would or could make the squad. The dilemma Stuart Pearce has is what approach to take when selecting his team. Do you make allowances to have a Scottish and Irish presence in the side, instead of more talented or deserving players? Should a quota system be introduced to make it an even playing field? Whatever approach he uses, the missing party will cry wolf, regardless.
There is also the ‘David Beckham factor’ to consider. A star attraction, who helped London get the 2012 Games. His proposed selection or omittance from the side will draw headline news from all quarters. Speaking of exposure lead us nicely to those who have every right to be annoyed and angry by their pinacle tournament being hijacked by football – the athletes.
One does feel for the track and field athletes – who would be classed as ‘real Olympians.’ Limited exposure and media coverage is something I’m sure they are used to by now but the Olympic games are different. It is their moment in the limelight, their time to shine and yet again, they will be overshadowed by the dominating presence of football.
As it stands, England are a lone force in initiating Team GB with no support from their UK counterparts. A concept which was designed to capture the imagination of the British public, has so far, failed to take off.