POSTED: December 21st 2010
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JOHN GOODBODY: 2012 dilemma for Welsh, Irish and Scottish footballers

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Dec 21: You usually find in the administration of sport that the rights of the individual are relegated to  being of least importance in making any decision or judgement.

Ever since the football associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decided that they really wanted to have nothing to do with the Olympic tournament in 2012 - except, interestingly, to have the financial benefit of staging matches at Hampden Park in Glasgow and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff - it has been evident that a seed had been sown for future nettle-like problems.

England's Football Association has always been keen for a British team to take part in 2012 as it had done regularly  either in the final or qualifying tournaments until 1974, when it abolished the difference between  amateur and professional.

It was evident that with London hosting the 2012 Olympics, there must be a home representative for the competition, for which for many countries, although not Britain, is the second most important for national teams after the World Cup.

The question has therefore been: will the team just be English or will it be truly representative of the United Kingdom?

Reluctance

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been understandably reluctant to have their players included because they fear FIFA could then insist on a joint UK team for future World Cups and Olympics. Given the devious behaviour of FIFA and the antipathy by its officials towards Britain, this is an understandable concern.

On May 29, 2009, the four home associations sent a letter to FIFA stating that, while the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish FAs would not participate in a unified UK team, they would not prevent England from taking part. Very generous.

However, the weakness of the other three home associations was the possible attitude of their players. Some might, in fact, want to take part in what might for some be the highlight of their careers.

I had always thought a challenge might come from a female player from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland because the Olympics mean far more to women footballers than their World Cup, particularly as their nations do not regularly qualify for the final tournaments in any case.

However, instead, Welshman Gareth Bale, whose electrifying talent for Tottenham Hotspur has made him perhaps the most exciting young British player today, has said that he wants to play for Britain in 2012, helped in his decision, no doubt, by the fact that Wales have not qualified for the finals of the World Cup since 1958 and never for the finals of the European Championship.

Suspension threat

The Olympics are his best chance of ensuring that he plays in the final stages of a major tournament.

Wales have immediately threatened to suspend him. The question is firstly: for how long? For life? Secondly Colin Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, has said that the BOA cannot restrict selection to English-only players because otherwise it risks legal redress from players from the other home countries wishing to be considered.

Privately, the BOA is, no doubt, delighted that such a high profile figure as Bale is to challenge his association.

What will happen ? Much depends on the determination of Bale (and any other players of similar ability).

If he persists and the Welsh FA does supend him, he might take legal action or go to the Court for Arbitration in Sport in Switzerland, arguing no doubt that, in the past, British teams for the Olympics did include players from home countries other than England.

And the Welsh FA should recognise this ultimate fact: any suspension would harm Wales more than Bale. Wales need him for international football far more than he needs Wales.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001


Keywords · Goodbody · London 2012 · Olympic football · Wales · Scotland · Northern Ireland · Bale


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