As we draw closer and closer to the 2012 Olympic Games, the conflict that has been simmering for the past several years will now come to a head. As the host nation, Great Britain automatically gets to have a participant in every Olympic event. This includes the U-23 Football Tournament. The problem is, however, that there is no such U-23 Great British team. Ever since the IOC got rid of the rules barring professionals from the tournament in 1974, Great Britain has not entered a team into qualification. However, British teams have qualified three times since then in European qualification. The problem is that the qualifying team has been a Home Nation side, which are not allowed by IOC rules. Scotland qualified in 1992 and 1996, and England qualified for the 2008 Olympics. For 2012, Great Britain reformed the team, headed by the English FA and managed by Stuart Pearce. Gareth Bale, along with Aaron Ramsey, have expressed interest in joining the team. The response by the Welsh FA at their two biggest stars representing the country? "We are not for Team GB."
These words were spoken by Welsh FA Chief Executive Jonathan Ford. And he is not alone. When the idea to combine to create a Great British team was to be discussed at a meeting back when Great Britain first got the Olympic bid, the Scottish FA refused to attend and from the start opposed the team. Soon after the Welsh FA joined Scotland and opposed the team. Finally, in October 2007, the North Irish FA withdrew support as well, leaving England as the only FA to support a Great Britain team.
The chief source of animosity towards this idea is the thought that creating a combined Olympic team would threaten the status of the Home Nations in FIFA competition. Of course, Sepp Blatter obliged these thoughts and concerns. "If you start to put together a combined team for the Olympic Games the question will automatically come up that there are four different associations so how can they play in one team.?" This seemed to cement the thoughts of the FA's, and at this point in mid-2008 Team GB looked dead. However, an executive meeting of FIFA at the 2008 Club World Cup changed everything.
"The executive committee confirmed that the participation in the 2012 London Olympic Games of a single team representing Great Britain would not affect the existing individual status of the four British football associations. For the Olympic Games, they have to play in one entity. The ball is now in their turf..We expect a solution that will be presented to us for the month of March."
That solution was a compromise, in which each FA agreed to have a Team GB, consisting solely of English players. Quickly, the British Olympic Committee objected, claiming the policy was discriminatory (it is). Quickly, the Scottish FA admitted there were no legal grounds to prevent a Scottish player from participating in the team. This is how we have arrived to now.
Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have both refused to back away from their desire to play for a Great British team. The photo above was taken a month ago, as both Bale and Ramsey modeled Team GB supporter kits. With the Welsh National Team not qualifying for the Euro Championships Welsh National players could make up a significant portion of Team GB. As well Bale and Ramsey could be two of the best players to even play on the team, limited to players under age 23, with three exceptions allowed (Ledley King being discussed as one of the exceptions and the captain, along with Craig Bellamy). In response to the statements above from Welsh FA Chief Jonathan Ford, Bale's spokesman came out with a simple statement: "While he is 100% Welsh, he is also British."
Bale and Ramsey are turning out to be the focal point in what is becoming a reflection and exercise in British identity. Without going into the long sordid history, relations between the four identified groups of Great Britain have never been particularly healthy. This is just the latest chapter in that long saga, and while those issues pervade this entire issue, they are not the focal point. The focal point is the justification of the Home Nations even existing in terms of FIFA. Blatter himself brought up a point when making the statement above, that other Football Associations have brought up protests to the fact one country has four separate associations and teams. The more important thing is that they have four separate votes, the often have the same goals and same objectives, virtually counting one vote four times over.
It is my hope that Gareth Bale, and Aaron Ramsey, can participate in the 2012 Olympic Games for a unified British team. It is my hope that a unified British football team may help to unify the disparate citizens of the country. It is also my hope that the success of a Team GB can cause the four Home Nations to look at themselves and realize that they could accomplish much more as a combined whole rather than as four separate factors. Finally, I hope that a Team GB could make a Spur the hero of an entire country the same way a World Cup made a Hammer a hero of an entire country.