POSTED: June 1st 2011

England's Zurich nightmare casts new shadow over Olympic football

Gareth Bale: had expressed an interest in playing for Team GB /
Gareth Bale: had expressed an interest in playing for Team GB /

KEIR RADNEDGE in Zurich / Sports Features Communications

ZURICH, Jun 01: One consequence of the Football Association’s humiliation at FIFA congress is in reaffirming the determination of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to have nothing to do with the contentious Olympic football team.

Over the last few months it had been understood that the increasing national momentum towards London 2012, allied with expressions of interest from players such as Wales' Gareth Bale, was softening the resistance of the non-England trio.

Permission to their players to participate in an England-led project would not be granted but neither would any rebel stars suffer any ppost-Olympic disciplinary consequences.

Now the game has changed – for the worse for Team GB - after the Zurich broadsides delivered at England and the FA and its chairman David Bernstein by veteran FIFA vice-president Julio Grondona.

The other home nations’ objection had always been the concern that the sight of a combined British team at the Olympics would spark pressure from abroad to insist on only one combined team entering the World Cup and European Championship.

That fear had been slightly allayed by a reassuring letter from FIFA Sepp Blatter. But only slightly and not any more.

The FA upset the vast majority of the other 205 voting nations in FIFA Congress by proposing a postponement of the presidential election – a suggestion which would have left an organisation urgently in need of reform floundering without a leader for up to three months.

This was thrown out by a derisive 172 votes to 17 with 17 abstentions and prompted a furious attack by Grondona. His angry diatribe at the FA, after he had been called to address Congress ostensibly about the FIFA accounts, included a swipe at the shared British vice-presidency of the world federation.

Regular attacks

He said: "We are always having these attacks from England, mostly with lies and always with the support of journalism busying itself with lying rather than telling the truth. To present a project as Mr Bernstein did - such an idea is like shooting a penalty: it is always from the same place from which the insults and the problems come.

"We have had to put up with this for so many years. I have been the senior vice-president for many years and I've been hearing it for so many years at every congress. Perhaps they have a specific privilege because four countries have one vice-president but it always comes from that country."

Grondona suggested that English football was living in the past and did not appreciate how the game had changed and embraced the world during the presidencies of Joao Havelange in 1974 and Sepp Blatter since 1998.

He continued: "Before then only Europe and South America had the World Cup. Then, afterwards, things changed and it looks as if this country does not like it and does not show goodwill . . . England always has something to complain about."

The British football team has yet to be endorsed by the British Olympic Association to take up its right to automatic entry into the London 2012 tournament.

In theory it has until next April when the worldwide qualifying competition ends. But the practical issues of choosing a manager and giving him time to pick and prepare a team and securing his players’ release from their clubs at the climax of pre-season preparation mean that a decision cannot long be delayed.

An unofficial autumn deadline is looming . . . and senior officias of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will still, then, be reliving Zurich in their nightmares.

Keywords · Team GB · BOA · Olympic football · London 2012 · FIFA · Blatter

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