Unified British football team but divisions remain
LONDON - Agence France-PresseBritain’s footballers will join forces at an Olympic Games for the first time in 52 years this summer but off the field England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain as divided as ever.
No Great Britain team has taken part at the finals of an Olympic tournament since a squad of fresh-faced amateurs participated in the 1960 Games in Rome, suffering defeats to Brazil and Italy while beating Taiwan. But the English Football Association’s decision to end the official distinction between amateur and professional players in 1974 was the death knell for Britain’s Olympic side, which has not played since.
That state of affairs suited the associations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, who have fears that a unified British team could jeopardize the unique independent status.
Despite repeated assurances by FIFA that the status of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not be affected by a British Olympic team, sceptical officials have remained at loggerheads with their English counterparts.
The schism was highlighted last year when the British Olympic Association (BOA) issued a jubilant statement saying a “historic agreement” had been reached that would allow Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish players to play in London.
Within hours a joint statement from the affected nations denied the BOA claims, stating bluntly: “No discussions took place with any of us, far less has any historic agreement been reached. The Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reiterate our collective opposition to Team GB participation at the Olympics. We have been clear in explaining the reason for our stance, principally to protect the identity of each national association.”
Yet despite the defiant stance, the truth for administrators in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is that they remain ultimately powerless to prevent their players participating in London should they choose to do so.