A combined 18-man squad of players from each of the home nations will compete in the football competition during the 2012 games, albeit somewhat begrudgingly. The BOA described the agreement as “historic” but in reality there appears little agreement involved, more an unwilling acceptance. The main gripe from the respective authorities of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland centres around the desire to retain their county’s individuality, and the fear that a combined Great Britain team taking part in the Olympics will lead to a combined Great Britain team taking part in every other football competition.
Letters from FIFA promising the Olympic precedent will not lead to the withdrawal of the home nations’ independence have been rejected as “not strong enough” by SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, while former Scotland manager Craig Brown and Wales goalkeeping legend Neville Southall have come out against the idea. There have also been the expected protestations from political parties that want to see less co-operation between Scotland and England, not more.
Putting aside the nationalistic politics that have pervaded much of the discussion and focusing on the issue from a purely sporting stance, for a set of nations starved of international football success, the Olympics does at least represent the chance to claim a trophy. All four home nations have lacked a tangible reward for generations, with three of the quartet struggling to even make the World Cup or European Championships. The Olympics would at least give the likes of Gareth Bale, Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans, three potential over-age players, a brief taste of some form of high level international action.
However, it must be remembered that despite the much-trumpeted ‘agreement’ cited by the BOA, it is the English FA that is the driving force behind the united team. The Coach of the squad will be chosen by the FA, with Stuart Pearce previously the front-runner before the debacle of England’s elimination from the European Under-21 Championships, and, although any player from the home nations will be eligible for selection, the nationality of the Coach may determine a large percentage of the squad.
A Great Britain football team is now certain to be part of the Olympics, but there is much left to decide. The list of possible Coaches will grow month on month, and the 18-man squad, to be made of 15 players under 23 and a maximum three over-age, will evoke debate like any other tournament. Only time will tell if the genuine fears of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are justified but in the short-term, after a string of international disappointments, the chance to claim a title is one none of the countries involved can pass up.