POSTED: September 17th 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: Scottish independence a fervent topic in sport

Edinburgh is likely to remain the sporting focal point should they vote yes on the referendum / Big Stock
Edinburgh is likely to remain the sporting focal point should they vote yes on the referendum / Big Stock

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

(SFC) The United Kingdom is currently gripped by the debate surrounding the referendum on September 18 on whether Scotland will vote for independence. If the decision is yes –and, with 24 hours to go, most of the opinion polls are saying that the result is too close to call—then the consequences will be seismic. And sport will not be immune.

What makes the current situation so perplexing to many people outside the United Kingdom is that in several team sports, such as football, hockey and rugby union, the four nations, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, compete as individual counties. It is only in most of the other Olympic sports that the United Kingdom takes part as TeamGB. And under the Olympic regulations, a country, as well as being recognised internationally as a state, has to be a member of five world federations to take part in the Games. This should be possible in the time available.

Many of Britain’s most celebrated sportsmen and women in the London Olympics, such as tennis player Andy Murray, oarswoman Katherine Grainger and cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, are Scottish. At the 2012 Olympics, 13 medals were won by Scots, representing 20 percent of Britain’s total of 65, although 10 of those 13 medals came in team events.

If Scotland votes for independence, then it will attempt to enter the 2016 Games as an individual country. There is a recent precedent here as Montenegro only became an independent state in 2007 but still took part with a separate team in 2008. However, under the current timeline, Scotland will only become formally independent on March 24, 2016, only a few months before the Games open in Rio de Janeiro.

However, Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee President, has already said that he wants to “safeguard the interests of the athletes” and it would certainly be possible for those Scots wanting to compete individually at the Games and also of the necessary standard to take part under the Olympic flag.

However, there are many Scots, who may want to take part as a member of the British team, particularly in some team events. In rowing, for instance, many competitors know that their best chance of a medal will come as a member of a British crew. And this is true, not only for 2016, but for many Games after that.

Most, although certainly not all, of the best facilities and the support care are in England and many potential Olympic athletes from Scotland will want to train there. But should Scotland decide to be a separate country, Britain will not want competitors from a rival country using their facilities on a regular basis.

 And for a country of five million people, it would not be reasonable for Scotland to build the necessary facilities for many of the Olympic sports to satisfy the demand of the relatively few aspiring competitors. The importance of economies of scale is useful here.

Sir Craig Reedie, an IOC vice-president and president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, is a Scot and it will be interesting, in the case of a ’yes’ vote, whether he is regarded as the IOC member in Scotland or what would be the rump of the United Kingdom.  

Certainly, other areas of the world are watching the vote with huge interest. Nearly 20 years ago, Quebec very nearly seceded from Canada in a vote. Then there is Catalonia in Spain, which has long wanted its independence centred on Barcelona. What the Scots decide this week may have considerable repercussions elsewhere, both in politics and in sport.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th 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 · Scotland · John Goodbody · Craig Reedie · Great Britain

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