While the International Olympic committee recognizes Britain as a combined team in all sports, FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, recognizes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as separate teams. And there lies the heart of the controversy.
Soccer officials from the three smaller nations fear that merging a team for the Olympics could pave the way for FIFA to follow suit, forcing Britain’s teams to combine into one entry for soccer tournaments like the World Cup and the European Championships. There is a worry, too, that the nations would lose their individual seats on the committee that determines international soccer’s bylaws.
FIFA has given public assurances that it will still allow all four nations to compete separately apart from the Olympics, but its pledge has failed to convince everyone.
It is sometimes hard for outsiders to comprehend how deeply tribal Britain is, and how resistant to the idea that there is a unifying notion of Britishness. Wales and Northern Ireland have separate legislative assemblies. And Scotland has its own parliament, now controlled by the Scottish National Party, whose ultimate goal is national independence.
The rivalry between Scotland and England in particular runs so deep that when England competes in the World Cup, many Scots employ a position of “anyone but England,” actively rooting for England’s opponents, whoever they are.
The soccer associations appear to have no legal right to prevent their players from participating in the Olympics, and have said they will not retaliate against those who do. But they are openly discouraging them.
Monday, September 19, 2011
The Dis-United Kingdom of Football
The NYT has an interesting story on debate in the UK over the fielding of a UK soccer team for the 2012 Olympics. Organizing such a team is problematic because there is no such team -- in international football the UK plays as England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Here is an excerpt: