Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A "team GB" would be good for Scotland

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.


Anonymous said...

There is more to this than the opportunity to snipe at the SNP. This situation and the "historic deal" was brought to a head by the elimination of the England U-21 team from the European U-21 Championships at the group stages. Had the England U-21 team managed to secure a semi-final spot they could have gained one of the European Olympic qualifying spots. They could thus have been legitimately put forward as a "Team GB" and few would have issue with this. Failure on the park took this easy option away from the FA / BOA. Likewise, with the England woman's team at the World Cup next month, this could have been used as qualification route. Again, should England have gained a qualification via this route it would have been a simple method. My personal opinion is that there was always a straightforward non-controversial solution to a "male" Team GB - just take the a squad based on U-23 home nations players from Queen's Park who have, since 1867, been living up to their motto 'Ludere causa Ludendi' - to play for the sake of playing in true Olympic Spirit.

Andrew said...

Of course there is more to this than "the opportunity to snipe at the SNP". In fact, it's not even that. I'm not the kind of political tribalist people who don't know me assume I must be simply because I have a political blog. I don't find it clever to indulge in negative sniping; quite honestly though, if anyone's doing that kind of thing it's certain members of the SNP - and the SFA official who foolishly claimed that "assurances from FIFA that a team GB Olympic football team would not damage Scottish footballing independence is like the letter Chamberlain got from Hitler in '38." Honestly, how helpful is that?

I agree with a lot of what you say, rxpell. There would of course be a danger that a "team GB" could be disproportionately filled with English players. But that of course is NOT the basis of the SNP's objections, and this difficulty could and should be overcome with the respective FAs working together to ensure all home nations are fairly represented in terms of playing personnel. There are complex arguments to be had but they should be focused on ensuring a truly representative "team GB", not on making political capital from the English FA's regrettable arrognace.

I see Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington has intimated he would have no difficulty with any of his players participating in a GB team at the Olympics. Rangers duo Hutton and Wylde have indicated interest in playing, and why shouldn't they? Also, while the Irish FA remains currently opposed to such involvement, First Minister Peter Robinson hasn't seen fit to intervene in the debate. Wisely, in my view.

You have sensibly concentrated on the purely footballing rather than the political issues. If you read my post correctly, I am simply suggesting politicians do the same. And yes, I think Queen's Park's Corinthian principles should be applauded - the recongition that the Olympic Spirit should be the ultimate priority seems to have been overlooked recently and has taken a back seat to nationalist propaganda.

Andrew said...

Readers might be interested in this, especially the intelligent comment by "Daven" that follows it:

Also, David Weir has made an interesting intervention in today's Scotland on Sunday: "The SFA can say what they want, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and any player who turned it down would regret it for ever. There may be some pressure to say no but, when players realise that they have an opportunity to win a gold medal at the Olympics, then they'll begin to realise what's at stake, which is the chance to be part of history, to be at the centre of events at an Olympics on home soil." Absolutely.

Anonymous said...


Your rugby analysis is flawed.

Firstly, it is not a good analogy because the British and IRISH Lions is a team drawn from sportsmen from two sovereign states; UK and Ireland.

But the reality is that if the Lions were to replace the home nations it would effectively halve the number of top class international teams and would make the sport a total bore.

This is an important point because it is the pressure of a surfeit of top class international football teams that is the driver behind the desire of many associations to see the UK represented by a single team.

The reality is that Scotland as an independent FA is an anachronism that cannot be justified by any rational argument. It is Scotland's political status that is the real problem and the only long term guarantee for Scotland's future as an independent association is for Scotland to become a soveriegn state, just like 98% of other members.

If the SNP wanted to use this politically it would just keep its mouth shut, let all this go ahead and wait for the outcry when FIFA and UEFA kick the home nations out in favour of a UKFA (which would naturally be called the FA).

However, to their credit, they are speaking up for the majority opinion in Scotland even though stopping this happening is quite obviously against their interests politically.

Andrew said...


I'm not too sure the rugby analysis is as flawed as you would believe. The history of the British and Irish Lions predates Ireland gaining sovereign status. The arrangement has nothing to do with the sovereign status of its member nations, especially as its conception was the product of co-operation by the four Home unions (and such co-operation is ongoing). My main point that the autonomy of the Home Unions has not been undermined I think remains a valid one, although obviously the behaviour of the English FA and the trustworthiness of FIFA are fortunately problems unique to football.

As you say, the Lions would not replace the home nations. And neither would an Olympic GB football team necessarily replace the independent FAs of the Home Nations. You suppose that "the pressure of a surfeit of top class international football teams that is the driver behind the desire of many associations to see the UK represented by a single team" and for some people it might be, but I imagine as far as many are concerned the key motivation is simply ensuring that Great Britain, which likes to think of itself as the home of football, has a team in its own Olympic games. I'm sorry, but I just don't buy into the argument that there is no end of scheming taking place to create a UK FA. You know as well as I do that the stringent rules surrounding team composition at the Games means that there won't be too many "top class international football teams" represented there - just second string under-23 teams with a few aging stars playing for national pride.

Yes, the SNP is using this politically. I agree that the SNP would also probably use the eventually you describe to their political advantage if such a situation was to occur, but the fact that they'd understandably get out their "I told you so" lines should their unlikely predictions prove true isn't preventing them from using this debacle to advance their nationalist arguments here and now.

I'm not sure who speaks for the majority of Scots on this issue. My own soundings indicate that opinion is strongly divided, with many neither buying into the scare stories about loss of the SFA's autonomy nor showing much interest in "team GB" as a concept. This is a shame. I still maintain that a "team GB" would present opportunities for Scottish football that the SFA and some politicians have overlooked.

"Scotland as an independent FA is an anachronism that cannot be justified by any rational argument". To a point I accept your logic. But there is also historical precedent and agreement, and as far as I am aware there is no concrete evidence of any drive to reverse that. If anyone can provide any such evidence, I will naturally defend the independent status of the SFA and those of the other Home Nations - however irrational you may find it.

Anonymous said...

the whole argument that the lions rugby team works simply because its constituent parts are sovereign states whereas a team GB could never work in football is completely wrong. Each of the nations has its own union, just as in football each of the nations has its own FA. If you accept that line, a team GB based on temporary agreements between our FAs would be dangerous and unworkable but a team Europe, based on agreements between EU sovereign states, would be both workable and more desirable. I don't think so.

Andrew said...

To the second anonymous contributor:

Agreed that the sovereignty of the constituent "nations" is not a required consideration in co-operation between the RFUs or the FAs of the home nations.

As for a "Team Europe" - can you imagine anyone supporting such a thing? The same could be said for a GB team on a permanent basis; yes, people will want to see a GB team competing in the Olympics on British soil, but there would be absolutely no public appetite in either England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland for a more permanent arrangement. Neither would those inside the game support a move towards a GB FA, and it would cause so much turbulence as to be almost impossible to implement. That is a key reason why I am confident the autonomy of the respective FAs will not be allowed to be undermined, and why reason should prevail over unnecessary fear.