Desmond Kane

Playing for Britain is no act of treachery

Desmond Kane

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British by name, English by nature. The Mancunian singer-songwriter Morrissey once penned the line "England for the English" in his contentious ditty The National Front Disco of the early 1990s.

With 500 days to go until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London, such lyrics could illustrate the shambolic state of the not so Great British football side. The heart of this ailing matter does not lie in England's green and pleasant land. Not while it is grim up North. 

If the Scottish Football Association has its way, the structure of the GB football team that participates in the Olympic Games next summer will be about as Highland as the Henley Royal Regatta.

In a week when tickets for the Games go on public sale, the voices of dissension from within Hampden Park in Glasgow grow ever louder, but the language employed by figures within Scotland's national stadium remains belligerent bluster. The SFA, Welsh and Northern Irish FAs have made their feelings known on the subject of a unified British team since London won the right to host the Olympics in 2005.

The three associations are fearful that their endorsement of the GB team could be the first step on the road to the acceptance of a full-blown British team participating at European Championship finals or World Cups. 

They are concerned that a British team could help them surrender autonomy, and automatic, historical seats on the eight-man International Football Association Board that governs the rules of the game. This is probably where their main gripe lies. If so, the SFA are acting in self-interest, not in the interest of the players who would like to play for GB at such a unique event.

Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, has given assurances that the independence of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will not be compromised by a GB team. After such a shadowy World Cup hosting vote in December, he is not the most reliable figure to listen to on the issue of voting rights.

"Our stance has not changed, and will not change," said an SFA spokeperson over the weekend. "There is a responsibility on all associations to educate players on the clear and present danger of a unified British team, which we believe could affect Scotland's independent membership within FIFA, despite public assurances from Sepp Blatter."

The Scotland, Northern Ireland and Welsh sides are not going to disappear from the face of football if Scots play for GB. It remains highly unlikely that a one-off British youth side playing at the Olympics would sound the death knell on the four founding fathers of Association Football. There is no stomach for a British football team within these shores.

Such an act of partition could not be foisted upon four separate countries. The SFA's right to be heard is understandable, but playing for Team GB should remain an individual choice after the SFA has aired its grievances.

Further comments attributed to an SFA spokesperson added a caveat which this onlooker found slightly troubling. "The feelings of Scotland fans are also clear and unwavering. They are vehemently opposed to Team GB and the players should also be mindful of that.

"Educated on the stance we've taken and made aware that in eyes of the fans it would be an act of treachery, for personal gain over the collective interest.

"They would need to know they'd face a backlash."

Call me old-fashioned, but the SFA do not speak for the fans on this matter. A young Scottish player should not feel like he or she is replicating a cricketer on one of those infamous South African rebel tours.

It is not supporting a form of apartheid to wish to play for the country you live in. Whether one feels English, Scottish, Northern Irish, Welsh or British, or both, the SFA has no jurisdiction in this area. As a British passport holder, a Scottish, Northern Irish or Welsh player should be able to play for GB.

The intimation from the SFA on the subject suggests there may be sanctions doled out to any football player, male or female, who takes up the option to play for a British side.

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Would it cost a "rebel" a place in future Scotland squads?

These are sinister overtures that have not yet been made clear because no Scotland player, of which there must be a few, has declared a willingness to represent the British side.

Players of the calibre of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero (pictured, above) revelled in winning a gold medal for Argentina at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Why should a Scot be denied a similar right, some would say their birthright, to represent Team GB?

With Scotland's participation in the Euro 2012 finals in some doubt as they toil to get out a group that contains Spain and Czech Republic, an appearance at the Olympics may be the only chance some Scots get to appear at a tournament of such standing.

The SFA suggest an individual playing for GB risks becoming a pariah. One suspects a fair number of Scottish fans would have no problem with it. The Tartan Army are a terrific bunch of supporters, but have never formed a natural alliance with officialdom. When the Scottish fans decided to boo the Liechtenstein national anthem because it mimics God Save the Queen, the mouthy SFA president George Peat decided to wade into the subject. 

"I apologise unreservedly to our visitors for the crass reaction to their anthem," said Peat.

If the SFA are so against Team GB, then why was Peat so concerned about the Scottish support booing the British national anthem? If the SFA are so concerned about Team GB, why has Hampden Park been made available to host matches at the Olympics?

You cannot castigate Scottish fans for their anti-English outpourings then embrace what are perceived as anti-British sentiments. Some English commentators are already lining up a squad full of English Premier League players, which will look and feel inherently wrong.

With three over-age players allowed in an U23 squad, there will be ample opportunity for Scots to be considered for selection. Opportunity may not pass this way again. It will look dismal if an all-English GB team trots out to play at Hampden Park.

A couple of Scottish women footballers are apparently studying employment law to see where they would stand on the thorny issue of playing for the unified female GB team at the Games. In this day and age, human rights law would surely be on their side.

The legal issues enveloping the criteria for selection could run a lot longer than Scottish athletes will on the track next summer with the British Olympic Association highlighting that "the Olympic Charter forbids any form of discrimination".

Have you heard the one about the Englishman, the Scotsman, the Welshman and the Northern Irishman who planned to get together for a kickabout next summer? This is not a joke. It remains no laughing matter.

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