I've read with interest today's Herald, which focuses on "SFA fury at British Olympic team claim".
As someone who takes a great deal of pride in both my country and our football, I have a strong views on this issue, which seems to have caused no end of unnecessary controversy.
I think we firstly have to deal with the arrogance of the English FA which, it seems, yesterday made an announcement to the effect that a "historic deal" had been struck between the FAs of the various home nations to pave the way for a team GB to take part in the Olympics next year. There is nothing more certain to impede any potential "historic deals" than the English FA pre-empting their Celtic counterparts and issuing dishonest statements. It is quite clear that no decision has been reached, historic or otherwise. The Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh FAs are united in being appalled at the English FA's attitude, and rightly so.
Unfortunately, what has now happened is that the FA's behaviour has again brought into question whether a team representing Great Britain (rather than an English team in GB colours) will participate in the Olympics. And, predictably but equally unhelpfully, politicians have already used the situation to make points about Scottish nationalism and independence.
As a sports fan, I am concerned that SFA president George Peat can say "we want nothing to do with [the Olympics]". Does he actually speak for all member clubs, or their players and supporters? I also disagree with the SNP, who argue that "it severely puts at risk the continued independence of all the home nations" - and their MP Pete Wishart who insists that a team GB "would be a gift for those who wish to end Scotland’s independence as a footballing nation.” It would be nothing of the sort.
I enjoy rugby union. I support the Scottish team every year in the 6 Nations Championship, and I naturally value the independence of Scottish Rugby Union from the governing bodies of other British nations. However, that independence has never compromised the success of the British Lions or obstructed Scottish players from playing for the British team. Neither, it should be stated, has the existence of the British Lions (a far more permanent arrangement than any "team GB" for the 2012 Olympics) put at risk the independence of Scottish rugby. Perhaps the SNP should take a more evidence based approach rather than play politics with our sport?
The SNP website also claims that "The Scottish Football Association is the second oldest in the world after the English FA and their independence as separate footballing nations has always been well established – that was enshrined when the home nations re-joined FIFA in 1946. The of establishment of a joint team between the home nations would put this historic agreement in severe jeopardy." I agree with their hailing the historic arrangements, but again wish to refer the SNP to historical evidence: a team GB participated in all Olympic games from 1904 until 1972. During these years, the FA organised "team GB" in acquiescence with the FAs of Scotland, Wales and Ireland/Northern Ireland. As the Olympics insisted on participants being amateurs during these years, Scotland's famous amateur club Queens Park provided a number of players to the British team.
So, no - a British team participating in the Olympic games would not put at risk historic agreements or the independence of our national FAs. While I deeply regret the stupidity of the English FA in making irresponsible statements and alienating its counterparts, it is right that it should have taken a lead to ensure a British team is represented in the British Olympics. And I also think it's right that while the other FAs take the English FA to task over the way it has conducted itself, they should do whatever is necessary to ensure that talks continue and remain constructive.
I might prefer that there should be a "team Scotland" in the Olympics. It would be fun to take on England! But, let's think soberly. In all other sporting disciplines Scots will be participating in the same team as athletes from other UK nations: athletics, hockey, tennis, badminton, volleyball, etc - without anyone questioning whether the independence of, for example, the Scottish Volleyball Association or the Scottish Hockey Union will be undermined.
So, while the SNP continue to peddle myths such as "a conjoined team of all the home nations competing in London next year [will set] a dangerous precedent...there would be nothing stopping a future committee turning round and declaring an end to the four respective associations" we should instead look at the historical evidence. There is no move designed to create a GB FA - just to forge a team to play in what are, after all, the British Olympics. SNP scaremongering seems to have no bounds - they also allege that a team GB would mean "the dismantling of the domestic league structures across the whole of the UK" - but it should not be given credibility by our media. The English FA have behaved disgracefully, but that is no reason to politicise the issue and create misplaced and uninformed alarmism about the future of Scottish football.
So, while I appreciate why the SFA feels to angry, I hope they will see the benefits of supporting "team GB". The Olympics are coming to Britain - more importantly, Olympic football will be coming to Glasgow. I want Scottish people to enjoy the games - and what better way than to have Scottish players playing for the GB team in front of a full house at Hampden?
Let's get away from the negativity of the SNP, which at best is nothing more than evidence-lacking speculation. Instead, let's look at the positives, and what a real "team GB" would do for Scottish football. Firstly, a British team which is essentially just a team of Englishmen would not be something I would want to support as passionately as a team that contains Scots, Welsh and Irish. A purely English "team GB" would perpetuate the myth that Scottish football is inferior to its English counterpart, as well as give credence to the notion that "English" and "British" identity is the same - while a genuinely "British" team would have a wider appeal. Secondly, surely it makes sense for a British team playing in Scotland to include a number of Scots? And thirdly, Scots playing for GB would help put Scotland on the map and would be able to showcase themselves on the world stage.
Despite what the English media think, there is far more to British football than the Premiership and the national embarrassment they call the English team. "Team GB" would represent the opportunity not only for Scots to get behind many of our own players representing Britain in the British Olympic games but also a great chance to show that Scots can play and compete successfully on the world stage. In my view, it would help bring back some respect for Scottish football which has been overlooked in recent years.
And let's not forget, these are British games, not merely English games. That is an important distinction. Scotland should and will benefit from hosting the football competition; "Team GB" should similarly reflect the British nature of the games.
It is not often I agree with Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, but he is right to argue that "any decision on participating in a British football team at the 2012 Olympics should be down to the individuals themselves.” In fact, legally speaking even the respective FAs can not act as a barrier to prevent any willing Scot, Welshman or Irishman putting themselves forward as a prospective participant. What I would be concerned about is the risk that politicisation of the issue could create pariahs out of any Scot who may wish to play for "team GB".
There have been times when, understandably, politics and sport have become intertwined. On this occasion, the SNP's willingness to embroil themselves in a matter that is not for the Scottish government to decide on owes more to the Inverclyde by-election and their obsession with independence than it does to real concern about the future of the SFA as an autonomous body. The historical evidence shows that, time and again, that British teams have never compromised the independence of Scottish sporting bodies; neither are they likely to in the future.
I disciovered today that I have been successful in having bid for some Olympic tickets. Admittedly, I was only allocated tickets for fencing, table tennis and beach volleyball but already I'm looking forward to being part of the Olympics. I would be looking forward to them with much more positivity if a particular political party would abstain from unwelcome interference for its own short-term political ends.