POSTED: September 10th 2014

NEIL WILSON: Olympic hang-over from a Scottish yes vote

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and may be the new sporting focal point of the country if they separate from Great Britain / Bigstock
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and may be the new sporting focal point of the country if they separate from Great Britain / Bigstock

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) If Scotland votes next week to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, the ramifications for Olympic sport will be felt as far away as Rio.

The International Olympic Committee said this week that the athletes will not be allowed to suffer but they are wrong. Athletes will be among the many who suffer from an independence campaign in Scotland that has divided families and friends.

If there is a Yes vote complex negotiations to separate Scotland from the UK will begin immediately but even the Scottish nationalists do not believe they can be completed before March, 2016. Others think they will take far longer, possibly close to the start of the Rio Games in August that year.

Until those negotiations are complete the IOC will not recognize an independent Scottish Olympic committee. Indeed they are unlikely to do so until Scotland becomes a member of the United Nations which may take longer.

The IOC’s position is that in the interim Scottish athletes may compete under the Olympic flag, as India’s did in 2012 because the suspension of its NOC, and it will disregard its rule preventing athletes switching nationality between Games.

That leaves unanswered the question of how Scots would compete in the long, qualifying competitions in the 18 months before the Games. Would Britain continue to select Scots in its teams in the inter-regnum after a Yes vote? Would UK Sport which funds elite athletes continue to fund Scots? Would it allow them to continue to train at its elite performance centres?

And what about the many cross-border partnerships that would be torn asunder? Heather Stanning and Helen Glover are world and Olympic rowing champions, an Anglo-Scottish team. World champion canoeists Dave Florence and Richard Hounslow are another Anglo-Scottish pairing.

Will such Scots opt to remain British for 2016 even though that would make them ineligible for their new native country in 2020?

There were 51 Scots in Team GB’s 525 athletes in 2012. They won three individual golds and four more as part of teams that included English, Welsh or Northern Irish. Since Scotland’s population is slightly less than 10% of the UK’s, they certainly punched their weight.

If those are not enough ripples to worry the suits in Lausanne, there may be a tsunami coming their way at the highest level.  Sir Craig Reedie, one of its own vice-presidents, is a Scot living in Scotland. Could he continue to be the IOC’s representative in the UK if Scotland is independent?

And if he cannot, would he need to be replaced in what remains of the United Kingdom. It would have then only Princess Anne as an IOC member – of its others, Sir Philip Craven is ex-officio and Adam Pengelly is a time-limited Athletes Commission representative – and a country which has hosted three Olympic Games would surely be entitled to another. Lord Coe, perhaps?

If Yes is Scotland’s answer next Thursday, Olympic sport will be left with a whole host of questions.

 NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Neil Wilson · IOC · Scotland · Craig Reedie · Olympics

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