By Andrew Warshaw
August 22 – England manager Sam Allardyce has backed calls for an all-British team in future Olympic football tournaments after the short-sighted and backward decision not to enter teams for Rio.
Despite Britain’s record Olympic medal haul, once again the nation was conspicuous by its absence in the football event, a huge missed opportunity – especially for the women – as a result of continuing intransigence by the individual British nations.
Asked if he regretted Britain’s absence from football competition, Allardyce replied: “I do personally yes.”
“I think it’s a fantastic venue, once every four years and to turn it down is a great shame,” Allardyce told the BBC. “When you see the delight on Justin Rose’s face when he won the gold medal in golf it shows what it all means. It’s something we may look at in the future and try to compete in.”
England’s heroic semi-final appearance in the women’s World Cup last year qualified them for Rio and the serious chance of a medal – Sweden who took their place ended up the beaten finalists. Yet the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish could not agree to enter a joint team for the Olympics, a massively disappointing move for nations that could ill-afford to miss out.
Unlike the men, the Olympic women’s tournament is on a par with the World Cup yet the British powers that be appeared not to have recognised this. Four years ago, both the men and women fielded Olympic teams but that was a one-off and only because London staged the Games. Before that, you have to go back to 1960 to find the last time football was an Olympic sport for Britain.
As for the men, all kinds of arguments have been put forward for not fielding a team, from fixture congestion (even though the event is primarily for players under 23) to the threat (no longer valid) of FIFA removing the rights of the four British nations to retain their independent status.
The English Football Association were reportedly keen to go to Rio but could not persuade the other home nations to follow suit even though FIFA have repeatedly insisted that an British Olympic team would not jeopardise individual international football sovereignty.
As it turned out, the men would not have qualified anyway but an important principle was lost and as so often, politics played a prominent role. Football Association of Wales chairman Trefor Lloyd-Hughes was livid at losing out last year to England’s David Gill for a place on FIFA’s executive committee and it is believed in some quarters that such resentment impacted on any chance of an all-British team being selected for Rio. One can only imagine what the rest of the world felt seeing Britain pick up so many medals yet not even take part in football.
Former British sports minister Sir Hugh Robertson is convinced politics denied the women’s game a brilliant opportunity to build on the interest shown London 2012.
“From the British Olympic Committee’s perspective, we would love to see Team GB football,” Robertson told the BBC. “It is particularly a powerful tool to promote the women’s game. The tragedy is that the politics of football administrators impact on the athletes because women football players would want to be at the Olympics.”
Ironically had there been a British women’s team, they would have denied eventual Olympic silver medallists, Sweden, a slot. “We are all desperately disappointed that there isn’t a football team for Team GB, primarily the women’s because they are so strong, had a great season leading up to this, but also on the men’s side as well,” Bill Sweeney, the British Olympic Association’s chief executive, was quoted as saying.
“We’ll be having meetings when we get back to try and sort that out. If you look at the success of women’s hockey here, to have had a similar sort of story in football would have been absolutely fantastic.”
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