Tuesday, March 10, 2009

One Team to Rep Them All?

It's called the United Kingdom for a reason, you know. The UK is technically composed of four separate nations - England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. At least that's the way FIFA, soccer's governing body, and UEFA, its European counterpart, see it. Each nation plays separately for World Cup and Euro purposes and each has its own domestic league. Rugby works similarly, IIRC.

That setup has never worked particularly well for the Olympics, which only recognize the UK. It's no big deal most years, as Olympic soccer is a bit of a neglected step child compared to the World Cup (the men's version, at least). But with the Olympics coming to London in 2012, there is a push on in some quarters to have a single UK team play in that competition. Sounds great, right? Only if you're English:

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations are opposed to a joint squad in case it affects their independent national sides.

* * *

The debate was opened by the SNP's Pete Wishart, who said participation in the 'meaningless' Olympic soccer competition could jeopardise the future of the Scotland national side.

He said: 'We should do absolutely nothing that would ever threaten our independent football status.
The issue might soon come to a head:
A Great Britain football team will play at the 2012 Olympics even if it is made up entirely of English players, sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe has insisted.
The fact is, the non-English parts of the UK would likely be shut out of any UK team. Let's face it - soccer in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland is not exactly sizzling. Scotland hasn't qualified for a major tournament since World Cup 1998, Wales since 1958, and Northern Ireland since World Cup 1986. And it's not as if their club teams make a dent in European competitions, either.

The real danger, it seems to me, in a joint UK team is not that FIFA will eventually pull the plug on the Home Nations, but that, aside from England, they'll simply become irrelevant.

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