British football teams set to end their Olympic absence

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The Independent Football

Great Britain is ready to field a football team at the Olympics for the first time in almost half a century. It was revealed yesterday that a Great Britain women's football team has been provisionally entered for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the British Olympic Association is preparing to field both men's and women's teams at the London 2012 Games even if they do not have the agreement of all the home football unions.

Officials from the British Olympic Association met representatives from the Football Association and the Northern Ireland Football Association on Thursday to discuss the issue. Although the Welsh FA indicated that it would not be attending, and the Scottish FA did not respond, the BOA chief executive, Simon Clegg, said that his organisation was prepared to go ahead even if neither Association changed its position over a proposition that has always raised fears that home associations might lose their individual identities in world football.

Clegg confirmed that a British women's team - composed of English and Northern Irish players at least - would play in Beijing, assuming that the England team earned the right to play there. To do that, England women have either to draw with or beat France in Rennes tonight to reach next year's World Cup in Beijing, where they need to finish among the top three European nations to earn the right to return a year later for the Olympics.

"From the discussions we had yesterday I believe that we will be in a position to field a team," Clegg said. "At the Olympic Games, it has to be a British team.

"The men's team now is not an issue in terms of Beijing, but my principle in terms of aspiration for 2012 is obviously to field the strongest possible team. The Football Association is fully behind this and the possibility of contributing to the medal table of 2012. And quite frankly that's absolutely right and proper. We want to field the strongest possible team in the men's and women's competition."

The suggestion that Scottish or Welsh players could put themselves forward for inclusion even if they did not have their home federation's blessing was not ruled out.

"We haven't got to that stage yet," Clegg said. "Let's address that if and when the girls eventually qualify for Beijing. I would hate for sports administrators to hold back their country's finest footballers - men or women - from participating in this great event."

He added: "At the end of the day, as you are well aware, it is the British Olympic Association that selects the team for the Games."

Football has been played at the Olympics since 1900, and Clegg was speaking in a BOA room which had on display the football used in the 1908 final at the first London Games, in which Great Britain beat Denmark 2-0. The last time a British football team contested the Olympics was in 1960. Since 1992, professional players have been considered eligible if under the age of 23, and three older players have also been allowed to enter.