Opinion: Is an Olympic Great Britain Football Team Possible?

Sometimes there are large gaps between Olympic qualification events, especially during the off-season. Instead of leaving this blog idle for so long I plan to fill it up with some other pieces. So if there are no Olympic qualifying events for longer than a week I will post something like an opinion, fun facts or a comment on the current world rankings in a sport. Please remember my opinions are just opinions and it is okay to disagree with it.

Over the past few months the English Football Association has been trying to get approval to send a British football team to the 2016 Olympics. This was met with disapproval from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Football Associations claiming that the 2012 Olympics was a special one-time thing. FIFA eventually stepped in and claimed that unless the four home nations can come up with an agreement they would not authorize it, effectively ending the debate.

The main fear that the home nations have in a united Olympic team is they feel other football associations will attempt to get FIFA to merge the four nations into a single team for all international competitions. To some people this sounds ludicrous; there are several sport federations that have separate associations for the home nations (though Northern Ireland is sometimes combined with the rest of Ireland) yet they are able to compete together for the Olympics. Would FIFA be able to force the home nations to merge?

In article 10 (admission), paragraph 5 in the FIFA Statues states that the four British Associations are recognized as separate members of FIFA, which essentially entrenches them into FIFA law. To remove this line the statute would have to undergo an amendment which would require 75% vote approval from the 209 associations during the FIFA congress. Even if the line is removed the home nations are still protected under paragraph 6 which allows non-independent regions to operate provided it has the authorisation of the dependent country, in this case the United Kingdom. The nations are further protected via paragraph 7 where the statute cannot affect the status of existing members.

Therefore the only way to remove one of the four home nations is through expulsion. There are three ways a nation can be expelled from FIFA; it fails to fulfill its financial obligations, it seriously violates the statutes, regulations, decisions or code of ethics of FIFA or it loses its representation status for the country. The first two things would be self-inflicted, but the third one can be cause for concern. Should a Great Britain Olympic team be created it would be fair to say that a Great Britain (or United Kingdom) Football Association would need to be created which would then cause it to be the parent country of the home nations thus giving it some controlling powers where hypothetically it can shut down the four associations causing them to effectively merge.

That scenario is a bit of a red herring because if a Great Britain Football Association was ever created the home nations would do everything to make sure such a thing will never happen. Other than a complete overhaul of the FIFA statute effectively the only way for the home nations to merge would be if the home nations wanted to merge. The four nations are way too entrenched in the world of football to be cast aside. The main issue comes down to trust; do the nations trust each other enough to let them have a little control over their affairs? With very strained relations and football often being used as a political tool the answer is no.

Another option that may be available is instead of a combined team a qualified nation could use the name Great Britain and only use players from their own nation. However, this was the original plan in 2012 where only English players were supposed to compete, but the British Olympic Association claimed that it would be discriminatory and allowed selection from all four nations. Going back would be hard to do and there is no guarantee that the BOA would not try to force a combined team in the future. So in the end it likely comes down to a combined team or no team.

But even before a team could be sent a more complicated issue would have to be resolved with FIFA, nationality. FIFA rules state that players can only compete for one nation with one change of nationality allowed should the player have not played in a senior level match or under special circumstances like a nation illegally revoking their citizenship. This would essentially prevent many of the top players from competing for Great Britain and the ones that do compete will likely not be able to switch back to their nation. For the 2012 Olympics FIFA made an exception, but that was a one-time exception so something similar would have to be set in place for any of this to work.

Can a Great Britain team be created without risking the identity of the home nations? Yes, but until relations between the four nations improve it is unlikely we will see a Great Britain football team any time soon.

References

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