It should be Team Scotland for London2012. Or should it be Team GB again?

August 26, 2008

Scotland honours its Olympic athletes, and the SNP raises more political questions. Alex Salmond argues for a Team Scotland for the London Olympics, and for an independent Scottish Football team at the Games

In the wake of the Beijing Olympics, Gordon Brown returns to the old story of a UK football team for London 2012. But the issue is complex. The story runs simultaneously with the wider story of whether team GB should be dismantled, so that the home nations can perform in their own identities, as happens in the Commonwealth Games.

The BBC reported [August 24th 2008] that

The Scottish Government has repeated its calls for Scotland to have its own, separate team at the Olympics. Ministers said it would be good for Scottish sport. The SNP wants to hold an independence referendum in 2010 – two years before the Games in London.

The case for a GB football team at the London Olympics is believed to put at risk the benefits of the national teams competing individually in other competitions, and particularly the World and European Cups. For Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, these internationals are pragmatically the sole rationale for their survival.

Gordon Brown sees the benefits to the 2012 games of an Olympics team GB, and of a football team GB as well. Rather audaciously, he would like to see Sir Alex Ferguson in charge of said team.

Alex Salmond sees it differently.
He tells the BBC

Mr Brown must be “seriously out of touch with Scotland”.
“The whole concept’s ridiculous and only could be put forward by somebody who’s seriously out of touch with Scotland,” he said.
There has been no British Olympic team since 1960, partly because of fears it could jeopardize individual sides.

The Prime Minister, who has suggested that Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson could manage the side, has been speaking with World Football’s governing body, Fifa, to reach an agreement on establishing British football teams. He said he would be surprised if there was not a team from the country which invented football competing on home turf in 2012.

Mr Salmond is remarkable shrewd in judging a popular cause. Maybe he continues to strengthen his political aspirations over this issue.

Maybe.

It is hard to assess the implications of his proposals. The rights of the four home countries to autonomy in world football is subject to the political machinations within Fifa, and the European football authority UEFA.

The concerns of the home nations are not without justification. That Prince among diplomats, Sepp Blatter offered one of his headline catching statements recently. His remarks hinted at a view that maybe indicated troubles ahead for the four home football unions:

Fifa president Sepp Blatter says a Great Britain football team at the 2012 Olympic Games should feature only English players.

“If you start to put together a combined team for the Olympic Games, the question will automatically come up that there are four different associations so how can they play in one team… If this is the case then why the hell do they have four associations and four votes and their own vice-presidency? “This will put into question all the privileges that the British associations have been given by the [Fifa] Congress in 1946.”

Unpopular but not without merit

My own views are those of someone of Welsh origins long domiciled in England. As in Scotland, the media in Wales have been keeping a proud count of the athletes of Welsh origin in team GB.

On balance, I rather like the idea of a supporting an Olympics Team GB. Despite reservations about obsessing over gold medal counts I was swept up into the counting game. I don’t feel that in 2012 I would have as much enjoyment keeping track of the overall Welsh medal tally.

That is a relatively trivial point but the feel-good factor this time around does seem a lot to do with the metrics showing Team GB had done better than might have been expected, and as an added bonus for some, outperformed that yardstick of sporting envy, The Australians.

But suppose Mr Salmond has to position his party as rejecting involvement in building on the achievements of Team GB in 2012, seeking an independent Team Scotland, foiling efforts at competing for football medals?

If so, Mr Salmond for once may be backing an idea that is likely to be unappealing to a proportion of his target electorate. Not too damaging of itself perhaps, but it may offer political opponents opportunities to cast doubt on Mr Salmond’s growing reputation as an agile and sure-footed leader.

In general, I found commentaries in the English press which largely supported the view that Alex has perhaps been less sure-footed than usual. A similar view could be found in Scotland on Sunday in which Kenny Farquharson described the First Minister’s position as churlish and petty.

On the other hand, the respondents to Farquharson were overwhelmingly on the side of Alex (Salmond not Ferguson). So who is to say whether Salmond has once again been able to deep-dive into regions where other politicians do not go?

Acknowledgement:

Image from emsee Bristol