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Added 14th July 2015, 14:03 in

To Be, Or Not To Be, GB?

Sport and politics are intertwined at their core, back room deals made in return for favour. It's when the two combine with negative consequences it's seeks to undermine growth and development.

By Lisa Higgins

No more so in the less than transparent debate over the permeant establishment of a Team GB Olympic football team.

After the Netherlands defeat to Japan in the second round of the World Cup, it handed 2016 Olympic qualification to these fair Isles, if it were not for the complexities of football in the United Kingdom. Steph Houghton and co will not be gracing Brazilian fields next year, as no existing agreement between the IFA,SFA,FAW and The FA is in place to field a Great British team. No other country in the world has the same issue, where the very sovereignty, identity and integrity of four football federations are called into question.

Given the imperious form of the Lionesses, at very basic levels they deserve their place. Omission only serves to hamper development further, stifles the momentum this crop of players clearly has, while German players were Instagraming their celebrations of qualifying for Rio, thanking England. It left many from the UK including players, pundits and fans perplexed. Some even angry at the four federations inability to see the bigger picture. This set of players deserve their chance to make a mark on the women's football landscape. The Olympic Games football tournament will be much poorer without Great Britain.

Let's not forget these players have earned their place through hard graft and application. working tirelessly with levels of humility and grace. To not even get the chance to participate in the Olympics, through in essence due to political interference, is perversely illogical. Especially given the positive impact third place has created, the legacy that all four federations promised faithfully to continue after the games. Those very cornerstones of sound reason and development are in part being broken and torn up by those charged with improving the game.

England with their bronze medals (Action Images)

There will be now a play-off for the last European place, ultimately that spot will go to a federation that has not met the standards of participation. It offers those federations the chance to develop their own national teams. Through added experience, gate receipts and exposure through play-off competition and Olympic inclusion. All at the expense of Great Britain's inability to find a solution a wasted opportunity of the highest order. The Olympic stage for the women's game is on a par with the World Cup. Opportunities to challenge at this level will only come around every four years, unless a viable open dialogue can be created to move positively towards a solution.

Wimbledon outings, flowers and media accolades pale into insignificance, when you consider a place at the pinnacle of the sporting stage has been denied to the Lionesses. That is the true personal and professional cost of political and sporting inertia.

Questions around self-governance and identity mark significant hurdles to overcome. They are nevertheless pillars integral of maintaining a truly independent football framework. Creating strong football identities and cultures.

Identity is fundamental to any success of a football team, any Great Britain team must be assured in its roots. Where all four nations in the team feel truly represented, equally and fairly without prejudice.

At the heart of a lot of the rhetoric presented, any combined team would undermine the identity of the four federations. Where long standing historical insecurities and boundaries permeate into footballing rivalries. It's not a simple case of forming consensus but redefining the football narrative.

Given the tone of the language used in formation of the 2012 Olympic team, it's little wonder no common ground can be found. Plaid Cymru before the Olympics expressed strong opinions against such a new direction for the sport. With then sport spokesman Jonathan Edwards clear about the parties view on the whole Team GB football affair.

"A one-off 2012 team is a clear and present danger to the independence of the Welsh national football side, as well as the other British countries. A permanent Olympic side, in my view, would make it impossible for the Welsh FA to argue for the preservation of its independent status in UEFA and FIFA competitions.”

Little has changed, in fact positions have become more deeply entrenched. FAW president Trefor Lloyd Hughes's latest salvo towards the Football association was far from conciliatory.

“I think they want to take over everything. I think the English FA cannot accept, (or) believe in principles anymore.”

The SFA have gone further underling their belief it goes against the independence or their sovereignty as a football association. Where they feel it threatens the very identity of Scotland. Releasing a statement regarding the ongoing talks, it's demonstrates the huge gulf in opinion.

"We have been consistently clear in our position and, in particular, the threat it poses to our independent membership of Fifa and also our representation on the International Football Association Board."

"A letter was signed by the Scottish FA, Irish FA and Football Association of Wales in 2009 to enable England to represent Team GB. We remain in alignment with those associations.It is imperative we preserve our voice at the top table of world football and the supporters are in agreement with our stance.

"We have consulted with the men's and women's international squads in order that they understand our position, the reasons for that position and are aware of the feelings of the supporters."

There is a disconnect in those statements. At no point has FIFA demonstrated its wish for Scotland nor any of the other FA's to relinquish individual membership. There is little momentum nor desire for those sorts of changes to be implemented, politically or in sporting terms. Discussions at the highest level of the sport need to be opened, for an agreement on the preservation of independence to allow a team GB to become a reality.

In spite of this, the fundamental question of identity and sovereignty must be challenged. Four nations together is a very powerful image, very much of value, for the good of expansion, evolution and image of an inclusive, progressive football community depends on it. It also demonstrates the values and ethics that the women's game prides itself on, further strengthening the image of the game.

It still leaves players and fans a like being denied the opportunity to fulfil professional and personal ambitions, all through perceived political interference. It seeks to further undermine the women's game.Truthfully it is being sold short.

GB celebrations after defeating Brazil at Wembley (tgsphoto.co.uk)

Concerns were raised that the composition of Team GB at London 2012 had a distinctly English feel. Hope Powell only selected only two non English players including Scotland's Kim Little. Fuelling the argument that it only benefits the FA not the other federations. Justifiably, on face value, the Scots, Welsh and Irish have a valid point. Assurances need to be made that all federations will be represented. Only then can the dialogue move forward into positive territory.

Given the political ramifications since the independence referendum in Scotland, sporting union with all parts of the UK has become more difficult to achieve. impossible to some who cannot even stomach the idea of competing under the Union Jack. Added to it the Welsh negative sentiment towards England still acutely felt, historical tensions run far deeper to the point of tribalism.

It is damaging to aspirations of a nation, where players can gain further experience, fostering success and creating confidence within the women's game. Across all four British federations there are players capable of pushing the world's best consistently over not only World Cups but in Olympic competition. Confidence of the women's football brand, created by the expansion of the FAWSL and England's World Cup exploits is at an all time high. It's about giving the players the chance to express themselves. In effect the block is akin to a restriction of trade.

Players do understand the political ramifications of a sporting union, it does not detract from the inherent discontent that many players do feel, with welsh international Natasha Harding weighing in on the debate.

"Being Welsh and maybe having an opportunity to represent Great Britain at an Olympics would've been a dream. Now that's been taken away."

Federations need to listen to the players representing them. The majority of them relish the chance to play on the biggest stages of all. Arguably the integrity of the federation outstrips personal ambition. It does not however give federations the ammunition to block progress.

Scotland manger Anna Signeul has taken a far more sterner stance on the issue. Declaring in no unreserved terms her lack of support.

"We have the same opinion as we had of it last time: we don't support it but if the players want to take part, we would be positive towards it. I think the raised profile came because it was hosted in London. I can't see it being the same profile in Rio."

Signeul has the right to protect Scottish interests but to not take advantage of the benefits Olympic participation brings. Is far more damaging to Scottish football and it's future. Where opportunities to test themselves against the worlds elite, a rare occurrence. How are standards going to improve, if there is continual resistance.

Holding the FA to ransom, preventing players from attaining honours and personal milestones, it makes no sense and underlines a broader problem, an inability to move forward. It seems a short-sighted policy, given the frequency of the Olympic Games that for one month in every four years, federations cannot come together in unison. To not seek compromise on the basis of saving face, those reasons are not enough to halt progress. Federations also run the risk of alienating their own players, fans and staff.

It also calls into question the wider implications of engagement in the game. Where girls and women take up the sport feel inspired to take part. It is contrary to the policy of many of the federations looking to involve more people in the sport. Participation increases the chances of young girls coming through the various youth teams into professional sport. Enhancing standards and improving and increasing growth from the grassroots up. Offering Olympic competitions as an incentive is a huge draw.

Broadcasting opportunities that arise from the exposure of the game, audiences connecting with players, inspired by what they see, whereby club football bears the transitional benefits of increased gate receipts. Sponsorship opportunities will be missed due to non participation, federations then will lose out on potential revenue streams due to constant vetoing of any Olympic team. Funding that the women's game urgently needs to continually improve, investing in the future of the game, benefiting generations to come. There is a compelling business case for an Olympic team in the women's game.

It is a damming indictment of the state of the game in the UK, when four federations cannot look past historic and political reasons for non-participation. It is further hampering the women's game, creating a sense of disharmony. At the very time that the conditions of evolution are primed to take root. Interest in the women's game are at record levels, it is a shame that those at the top who seek to guide the game in the UK, have lost their way in being progressive.

Pictured top - Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics (tgsphoto.co.uk)

Lisa Higgins
Independent Football writer
http://backpagefootball.com/author/lisahiggins1/
twitter@jensonfan1983

 

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Comment by LAHiggins
Posted 14th July 2015 at 20:21pm
Thanks for the comments. Rob, you would have thought so, it's a hugely waste opportunity for developing the game. All through political wrangling, I do not think the SFA,FAW and IFA realise the damage they are doing. All through a face saving exercise. I truly feel for the players who are being denied an opportunity to develop as players and achieve personal goals. Mike it a quirk of British football, where there are four Federations in one state. Unlike any other confederation, it's very much a unique aspect of the game here. It has to remain that way for a whole host of reasons. Britain cannot ask for special dispensation from either FIFA or the IOC. It would set not only a dangerous precedent but potentialy put the integrity and sovereignty of the four under huge strain. Opening the very distant possibility of FIFA asking nee demanding a unified team. High stakes game all around. Sad times indeed.
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Comment by mikescoates
Posted 14th July 2015 at 19:54pm
Ever since I was little I never understood why we have a Team GB for the Olympics and England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales for everything else. The solutions seem easy: #A - Ask the IOC nicely to open up another spot and send a Team GB or a Team England in. #B - Scrap Team GB when it comes to football and enter as individual nations in the future. If we go the #B route I think we'll definitely miss out on 2016, however I suggested a 'Triple Crown' type tournament instead (Eng, Ire, Scot, Wales in a one-off tournament to fill the gap). Unfortunately these suggestions come from just an England fan, therefore have zero weight, no deals attached, no business plans, no guarantees. Probably too uncomplicated for the respective FAs to understand and take heed of?
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Comment by Robpurfield
Posted 14th July 2015 at 16:24pm
Surely any Regional FA representation by England Scotland Ireland or Wales within a GB team would increase interest and awareness and therefore participation in Women's Football within those countries -

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