If you’re reading this it’s probably a given that you’re a football fan. If you like football there’s a good chance that you love sport generally and will be looking forward to the Olympics. I know I am, the cycling team looks set to improve on their Beijing medal with the men’s road team featuring from this year’s Tour de France winner and second place, 4 individual stage winners and the current World Champion. The athletics team looks good and the home support is bound to improve performances across the board. I’m looking forward to getting completely behind Team GB and all their efforts.
Well, except for one team. There is no way that I can support Team GB in the football.
For a start the Olympic football tournament itself is not very good and arguably shouldn’t be in the games at all. The Olympics should be at the pinnacle of achievement for that sport. A gold medal in the Olympics should mark you down as an all-time great in your discipline or part of a great team. That is resolutely not the case with football, which is a youth tournament sprinkled with some experienced names. The tournament ranks low in the global pecking order behind the World Cup, European Championships, Copa America and Africa Cup of Nations. Given the festival of top-level sport we are about to witness it’s hard to get excited about a third rate football tournament. Poor ticket sales for the matches so far show the general public isn’t exactly enthralled by the prospect either, with the top tiers of many stadiums closed. The sale of football tickets contrasts with the speed at which Olympic tickets have been snapped up for what would at any other time in the last 4 years be considered minority sports.
The fact that the football season is about to start is another reason that it’s a tournament that is hard to get behind. The global hype juggernaut that is the Premier League is about to hit full swing and all football thoughts will turn to this in the next week or so, with the Olympic football tournament relegated to a side-show. The imminent start of the Premier League also means that many star players are not available for the Olympics as they have not been released by their clubs. This has resulted in the team being an odds and sods assortment of England B team and under 21 players with a sprinkling of Welsh stars. Up and coming genuine English talent is absent, with the possible exception of Jack Butland. Sentiment has led to the inclusion of Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy, as well as the need for the team not to be an England B team in order to retain any sort of credibility. The return of Jack Wilshere for Arsenal and the need for some sort of star quality has allowed Aaron Ramsey to be included. The team does not even contain any token Scottish or Northern Irish players. For a team that is supposed to represent Great Britain and Northern Ireland it’s not very representative.
But the biggest reason I cannot support Team GB is the hugely dangerous precedent the inclusion of Team GB in the Olympics sets for the future. The Home Nations pride themselves on individual representation and this distinctness is something that is closely guarded. Our football cultures have grown up around Scotland being different from Wales being different from England and so on. This is especially true for the Celtic fringe nations, whose sense of identity and nationality is always threatened with being swallowed up by a more dominant England. The difference in football loyalty, despite (maybe even because of) the lack of success of the nations, is important to those who actually support those nations all the time and attend games, rather than those who only pay attention when there’s a major tournament going on.
The threat posed by Team GB to the heritage and uniqueness of our situation cannot be overstated. FIFA would love nothing more than to give the English FA a black eye after it had tried to stand up to corruption within FIFA. What better way to do that than by disbanding it. Many nations within FIFA, especially the developing nations, regard the Home Nations position with resentment and hope to get rid of a European voting bloc by combining them. Sepp Blatter has gone on the record to say that the uniqueness of the Home Nations will be protected as these Olympics are a one-off due to being the hosts. However, statements from the Sports Minister Hugh Robertson that there should be a British football team at all future Olympics and that 2012 sets a marvellous precedent to carry this on do not help the situation. There’s also the matter of trusting the word of Sepp Blatter and FIFA.
The other Home Nations have opposed the creation of Team GB, realising the threat that it poses, with only the English FA backing it to the hilt. The Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales FAs have all publicly stated that they have not sanctioned their players to play for Team GB, with Wales manager Chris Coleman having some especially strong words to say about it. The presence of Welsh players in the Team GB squad belies the fact that Giggs has long been retired from international football while Bellamy is just about to retire. Aaron Ramsey is a player so important to the future of Welsh football that the Welsh FA would never forbid him from playing for Team GB, though they have not given him permission either. Gareth Bale pulled out of the squad with an ‘injury’ and subsequently played for Spurs in their pre-season tour. This has led to the absurd situation of the English FA threatening to complain to FIFA about the availability to them of another nation’s player. The pure ridiculousness of this should be enough to make any football fan who supports his or her home nation but still supports Team GB stop in their tracks.
Written by Andrew Hagger (@giraffefarmer)