The Dis-United Kingdom

New England football manager Sam Allardyce has only been in the job five minutes and already appears to have spiced things up by stating that he would welcome Team GB competing at future Olympic Games.

In the London Olympic Games it took a long time for Team GB to confirm that it would play in the football competition, as many of the Home Nations Football Associations feared that if they joined and competed as Great Britain, FIFA and UEFA would demand that England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales compete as one nation in their tournaments.

Fast forward four years and once again the four home nations could not agree, and Team GB did not send a team, despite England’s women earning the right to play in Rio; having qualified courtesy of their third place finish at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Not surprisingly on the back of that result England’s Football Association had tabled the idea of sending Great Britain teams to the Olympics. FIFAs response was that it would need the agreement of the ruling bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. By all accounts they failed to advise whether this would have any impact on the other nations independent status in FIFA and UEFA competitions. So it was Groundhog day.

There are many who feel that football should be run along the same lines as the hockey at the Olympics. Here one of the home nations takes over the running of the Olympic program. The Olympic team takes on the world ranking of that team for the Games, and plays in that nation’s colours.

The trouble is the rivalry in football runs much deeper. Most of the home nations rejoiced when England were eliminated from the Euros by Iceland earlier this year. It would be hard to break down those views and galvanise a team as one. A coach would face the challenge of not being accused of favouring one nation, as happens frequently when the British and Irish Lions rugby team is selected. Yet somehow the coaches in rugby, in the main, manage to break down those national barriers and unite the players as one.

Could it be that Hockey and Rugby players are more mature than their football playing counterparts? That they are happy to put the good of the team ahead of themselves?

Even if the home nations were to unite as one, there are still those who feel that as long as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are recognised as independent nations why should they not be allowed to compete as such at the Olympic Games? Why can’t they compete under their own flags and with their own anthems?

The British Olympic Association vice-chairman and former sports minister Sir Hugh Robertson has stated that he feels the politics of the four nations has denied women’s football a great opportunity; the men did not qualify for Rio 2016. He has been quoted as telling Sportsweek that “From the British Olympic Committee’s perspective, we would love to see Team GB football, it is particularly a powerful tool to promote the women’s game.”

A total of 154,998 people turned out to watch the four Team GB women’s matches when London was the host city in 2012.

Herein lies another issue. Football’s place at the Olympic Games.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Women’s game has benefitted immensely from being a part of the Olympic Games. It has helped give it a profile and having only been introduced 1996 has not been plagued by amateur status issues or being an under age tournament. The women send their full national sides to compete for the medals. It is therefore a legitimate tournament and winning it carries worth and meaning. The men send teams of players under 23 with three over age players as option.

The women’s tournament has meaning in the context of their international competition. The men’s sadly has little meaning to many football fans, and few could name the past Olympic Champions.

Yes, it was great to see Brazil finally win an Olympic title; the only one missing from their trophy cabinet. It was also good to see such huge crowds at the game as that will have pleased the hosts, and ensured that the losses expected to be recorded by Rio will be lessened slightly.

Does Men’s football have a future at the Olympic Games? Will the men’s tournament now be an apologetic add on to the Women’s tournament, to meet the Olympic requirement that all events must have a female and a male competition? Many believe it is already playing second fiddle to the women’s tournament.

There are some who feel that the IOC will, after the Tokyo Games, follow the world trend of abbreviated versions of traditional sports. Rugby Sevens proved a huge success in Rio. So will Futsal take the place of the traditional eleven-a-side game? That would be a shame for the women, but it may be a very real possibility.

One thing that is clear and that is if this did happen it may alleviate the issues being faced by Team GB. As one feels that the Associations would have few issues releasing players for a Team GB Futsal team.

The Dis-United Kingdom
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