Calum Yule foresees problems with forming a Team GB for this summer’s Olympics.

In a sporting sense the name United Kingdom can seem like an overly positive way of describing the union that exists between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. There is nothing these nations enjoy more than a victory against one of their neighbours regardless of the event. So when the idea of a UK football team was first raised should we have been surprised at the reaction?

I am a proud Scotsman but I have also always thought of myself as British. I have lived and worked all over the UK.  I would think nothing of cheering on the British and Irish Lions at rugby and remember the euphoria of Linford Christie winning Olympic gold in Barcelona, so why is it that I can’t get behind the idea of a GB football team?

First of all, would we be talking about this had London not won the right to host the Olympics in 2012? The answer is probably no, the UK has not entered a football team for the Olympics since 1974 and the issue has rarely been discussed since then.

The Olympics are rightly seen as the pinnacle of an athlete’s career, they train in four year sections with everything focused towards winning gold for their country. When a young child is dreaming of becoming a footballer they see themselves scoring in the final and lifting the world cup not winning the Olympics. Playing for GB at the Olympics would be seen as more of a novelty and surely the Olympics deserve more respect than that? Also how would the athlete’s feel about members of team GB who clearly did not attach the same importance to the event? It could lead to unrest in the camp and possibly poor performance all round?

In football there is no such history or sense of UK identity– only separate loyalties.

There is also the problem of timing. In the summer of 2012 the European Championships are being held in Poland and the Ukraine. A couple of weeks after it comes to a close the Olympic football tournament starts. There is already an argument that footballers are overworked and that they don’t get enough rest, so would it be fair to ask someone to play in both tournaments, or even to ask them to decide which they wanted to play in? And what of the teams who pay the wages of the players? League football in the UK starts on average at the beginning of August, the Olympic tournament will still be going then, are the teams expected to be without their star players for the opening month of the league season? Would they be compensated if a player was injured? There is also the possibility that clubs will put pressure on players not to play; would a young player looking to break into the 1st team be prepared to risk jeopardising his career for a one off event?

In rugby with the Lions there is a fantastic history which the fans and players alike buy into. Perhaps this is because there is a different culture behind the two sports with opposition rugby fans often sitting together, something you would not envisage happening at a Scotland England football game. In football there is no such history or sense of UK identity– only separate loyalties to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Football fans are very tribal and much of their history, culture and national pride are bound up in support for their own football team.  There is also the question of team selection, would there be a minimum number of players that had to be selected from each country or would the chosen manager be able to select a team from one nation if he saw fit? The idea that a team of only English players be chosen has already been suggested as a possible solution to the problem but it would be hard to see the fans of the unrepresented countries getting fully behind such a team.

Even if we trust Blatter’s recent words, a UK Olympic team could create a bad precedent.

Then there is the question of history, the first ever International football match was held in the UK with between England and Scotland in 1872 (It was 0-0 by the way) – long before other countries began to compete. And the footballing independence of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the larger England isn’t just historical. They all run their own leagues for both amateur and professional football, as well as national teams. They each played an equal part in founding FIFA the governing body and continue to have their own votes in its Congress. But once this independent status is compromised by the selection of a joint UK team for the Olympics, it could easily be swept away entirely. Why not then scrap the four separate teams for the World Cup and European Championships? Why not merge the domestic leagues in the UK? Why not end their separate club entries into the Champions League and Europa League? There is too much at stake to risk it for a pointless one-off tournament.

There are also those that say Sepp Blatter has guaranteed the home nations their independence even if they form a team GB. They should think again, Mr Blatter has a habit of contradicting himself. In March 2008 he said:
If you start to put together a combined team for the Olympics, the question will automatically come up that there are four different associations so how can they play in one team?”
This clearly suggests that the rights of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and England to enter their own teams in international competitions could be lost. Even if we trust Blatter’s recent words, a UK Olympic team could create a bad precedent. Blatter won’t be FIFA President for ever and there are plenty of people in world football who would love to take away the unique status of the four nations.

And even if you strip away all of these other problems and questions we are left with one issue that would cause more debate and argument than everything else put together… …………..what colour would the strip be?