Monday, September 1, 2008

Come on Britain it's only the Olympics

'If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well, It were done quickly' - Macbeth (Scotsman), William Shakespeare (Englishman)

Team GB is getting ridiculous. The prospect of Britain fielding a football team at the 2012 Olympics should have been something to celebrate after years of absence. Instead it is fast becoming an almighty calamity.

Come on Britain it's only the Olympics.

For years, I watched in envy as other nations played soccer in the Olympics, but it was never a huge loss for us to be left out. Now we have finally been invited to (our own) party, we are umming and erring so much we might not even end up going.

There are two immovable obstacles at the heart of the current furor, which shows no signs of abating.

One is that the UK is four nations in one and those four nations are the oldest football associations in the world, with privileged seats on FIFA’s International Board but in danger of disappearing if enough FIFA nations choose to dissolve them into a UK team. And second is that the UK has no choice but to host an Olympics football tournament in four years.

Plus, FIFA President Sepp Blatter does not have the right to veto congress decisions, and in any case is equivocating and fudging the issue instead of showing a clear lead. To complicate matters further, Scottish Nationalists are the largest party in the Edinburgh parliament at the moment and plan an independence vote two years before the Games. What a mess.

Try explaining this situation to anyone from outside the UK and you are met by baffled looks. Most Europeans irritatingly use ‘English’ to mean anyone from the UK or even the British Isles. Oddly enough, Americans are more on the ball when it comes to using the right adjective, perhaps because of their diverse origins.

I once found myself on the wrong end of a Welsh fist in Cardiff for the crime of having an English accent, and twice in Britain, once at Hampden Park for Scotland v England and once at the Millennium Stadium for Wales v Northern Ireland, have I witnessed the British national anthem deafeningly booed. This is four nations, not one, when push comes to shove.

So if there is a solution, it is in a political division which would end the football arguments once and for all. But given this is unlikely to happen by 2012, we are left with an insoluble conundrum.

However funny it is to see the Tartan Army in a tizzy, their fears are not to be sniffed at. Four votes is not enough to stave off an African rebellion in FIFA corridors.

If we just made our excuses and left before the Games begin that might solve the problem, but refusing to enter a team will also look silly given the tournament is to be staged in Britain. Will Wembley sell out without a GB eleven? And will the IOC not want a GB team there given football normally attracts huge crowds at the Games. Nobody seems to have mentioned their wishes in this debate.

And how many international competitions can you recall which did not have a host nation? And since this is the homeland of the sport, there really must be some sort of British team competing. So what the heck do we do?

A playoff between the four home nations’ U23 teams could allow one to represent Team GB and still stay under FIFA’s umbrella, but this just seems too far-fetched a possibility. However sensible it might seem, I just cannot see it happening. The Celtic FAs are already dead set against anything ‘GB’ but it might be worth a shot trying to persuade them.

The best the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh FAs can realistically do therefore, is continue to refuse to participate and voice their opposition as shrilly as they can. That also means they insist that Cardiff and Glasgow are not used as venues for the football as planned.

What games there are must take place in England alone and Team GB must be made up of only English players, like it was when we used to enter a team and no-one cared a hoot. If that means the fans sing ‘Ing-ger-land’ and wave St George’s Crosses, all well and good: That will help the Celts’ cause.

But an all-English team singing ‘God Save the Queen’ in Scotland or Wales??? P-lease! Maybe only when the rest of the world sees British people booing the British anthem and cheering another country against 'Team GB' would they understand what this is all about.

When London 2012 is over and Team GB has lost to Croatia or on penalties to Germany, then we can all go back to watching the Olympic football on television like we used to and forget about this unprecedented hullabaloo over what should be a simple matter of the hosts fielding a team.

Whatever we decide to do, please let's get it over with.

"Lord grant that Marshal Wade, May by thy mighty aid, Victory bring. May he sedition hush, And like a torrent rush, Rebellious Scots to crush. God save the Queen!"

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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