Britain in union for Games?: Ian Ridley reveals a plan to unite the home nations for the Olympics

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The Independent Online
A GREAT BRITAIN football team, comprising some of the home countries' best young professionals such as Ryan Giggs, could be playing in the Olympic Games if a new initiative by the British Olympic Association is successful.

If the BOA can persuade one of football's four governing bodies in Britain to agree to their plan, a team could even be playing as early as Atlanta in two years' time, though Sydney 2000 is more feasible.

The Football Association and their equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have always scotched talk of a GB Olympic team since 1974, when the Games dropped amateurism, fearing that the world governing body Fifa might then seek one united team playing in the World Cup.

The chairman of the British Olympic Committee, Craig Reedie, Britain's successor to Dame Mary Glen Haig on the International Committee, believes, however, that circumstances have changed sufficiently to ease the worries of the home associations.

He has, he says, been told by Fifa's president, Joao Havelange, that the home countries would still be able to retain their individual identities in other competitions at a time when the game is expanding rather than contracting.

'We feel the football authorities should be looking again at a decision which denies young players the opportunity to represent Britain,' says Reedie, a Scotsman. 'I think it would be marvellous to see, say, Ryan Giggs playing on the world stage that he might not reach otherwise.'

The FA's chief executive, Graham Kelly, was yesterday cool about the plan. 'Our response would be negative,' was his immediate reaction. 'It's always been felt that we would not want to do anything that would jeopardise our status with Fifa.' He did not, however, rule out the possibility. 'We would need to examine it closely.'

Great Britain scored the first goal in Olympic competition, in a 4-0 win over the host nation France in 1900, and went on to win that and the next two tournaments. They last reached the Games proper in 1960 and were knocked out in qualifying on their last appearance in 1972 when fielding an amateur team in accordance with the code of the time.

Olympic rules allow professionals under 23 to compete and the BOA believes that the experience could be a useful stepping stone for British players on the fringe of national teams. Reedie said: 'The thought occurred to me watching the World Cup that Atlanta will host equally attractive events and I feel sure that our young footballers would want to be a part of it.'

Reedie acknowledges the difficulties. He anticipates a difficult dialogue. 'I understand the nervousness of the home associations but I don't believe there is a problem with Fifa any more,' he says. 'I suspect the problems will be more in Great Britain. I know that England are staging the European Championships in 1996 and that they will also point to a crowded fixture list, but it is something we must explore.'