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Harry Carpenter
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Tsk, tsk.

Smith opens door to united Olympic team

NEW SFA general-secretary Gordon Smith last night opened the door for a possible all-British team at the 2012 Olympics by insisting no firm decision has yet been taken over Scottish participation.

Ever since London was awarded the Games, the SFA, supported by Wales, has fiercely resisted a united under-23 football team for fear of losing their own individual national identity. Smith's predecessor, David Taylor, recently appointed as UEFA's new secretary general, stated on numerous occasions that joining forces with the other home nations for 2012 would serve as a dangerous precedent.

But last night, Smith said Taylor's comments did not necessarily reflect those of SFA board members and that a consensus would be reached within the next two weeks. In his first public comment on the issue, Smith said: "I have always considered we were strong enough to stand on our own as a football nation even with Olympic commitment. I respect David's views but I don't know if they reflect SFA policy. It's not just down to one individual. The board members will dictate which way we go and we have scheduled a meeting at Hampden Park within the next two weeks."

Smith said no talks have yet been held with new Olympics minister Tessa Jowell over a joint team but admitted a ruling would have to be made soon one way or the other.

"She's new in the job and so am I," said Smith. "But a policy decision will be made as soon as possible as to whether we are involved or not. Personally, I have never thought that Olympic involvement would affect us adversely but if I am advised that FIFA would love an excuse to weaken Scotland's strength as a nation football-wise, that would define policy. As yet I have not determined this is the case."

Earlier this year, FIFA president Sepp Blatter urged the four national home associations to bury their differences over entering an all-British team for 2012 and that a united team would not affect Scotland's separate autonomy. "We have confirmed in writing that they have to provide a Great Britain team for the 2012 Olympics, but the four British associations will not lose the rights and privileges acquired back in 1947," Blatter said.

"They will play with one team, but it is up to them how they do it. It can be a mixed team, it can be from just one of the home nations, whatever they want to do.

"We are not in a political situation and this would be an exception. This has always been my position, in fact it's in the statutes."

While he was in charge at the SFA, however, Taylor hinted repeatedly that there were powerful forces within FIFA who would jump at the chance of using an all-British Olympic team to further their claims for scrapping the three smaller British nations from international competition and replacing them with an United Kingdom team. Many within the respective Scottish and Welsh camps believe there is considerable jealously within FIFA about the unique status of the four individual British countries. According to Welsh sources, two attempts have already been made by FIFA members to remove Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales from international competition. The matter was said to have been discussed at FIFA's executive committee, but didn't get as far as congress.

If the comments of the new SFA general-secretary appear to have softened Scotland's stance, however, recent events may dictate why. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is said to have assured Blatter, when the pair met a few weeks ago, that a united team was a certainty. Additionally, Rangers and former Scotland manager Walter Smith appeared to lay weight behind the proposal when he was in charge of the national side. "If the worry of how it affects us as single nations is completely knocked away, then a British team is a very exciting notion," Smith was quoted as saying. "It would throw up a lot of problems for whoever selected that team but, overall, I think it would be a good thing for British football."

So far, calls from the British Olympic Association to sit round the table for joint discussions have been met with firm opposition from the SFA but there are strong arguments for Scotland giving ground at both political and sporting level. Britain qualify automatically as Olympic hosts in 2012 but it is likely to be a one-off since no united British team plays in the European Under-21 Championships, which acts as the qualifying tournament. The BOA has already decided to enter a GB team for the women's football at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 on the assumption that the England team finish in the top three European teams at this year's World Cup.

Finally, the fact that the showpiece opening match of the 2012 football tournament is scheduled for Hampden Park, in front of billions of television viewers, is a powerful carrot for the BOA to dangle in terms of giving Scotland a proud profile and may well end up tipping the balance when final agreement is reached - even if any united team ends up having only token Scottish representation on the field.

Posts: 6604 | From: the South Wales riviera to leafy suburbia | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TonTon
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People really do get all excited about this issue, don't they?
Posts: 9771 | From: London. Yes, actual London, with a real London postcode and everything. | Registered: May 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Gangster Octopus
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Only the Welsh, Scots and Norn-Irish...
Posts: 20721 | From: Far away, without a city wall | Registered: May 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TonTon
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Oh I don't know, I've heard Ing-gur-lund fans get upset at the thought as well.
Posts: 9771 | From: London. Yes, actual London, with a real London postcode and everything. | Registered: May 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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