Olympic qualifying plan 'daft'

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The Independent Online

David Cameron's weekend suggestion that the Home Nations should stage a four-team tournament to decide who represents Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics in London was rejected last night as an unhelpful and unwelcome contribution to the controversial debate on the issue.

The Scottish Football association and its counterparts in Wales and Northern remain implacably opposed to the fielding of a British team, believing it would be the start of the end of the home nations' special – and separate – identities within Fifa and world football.

The Tory leader said on the Scottish edition of BBC TV's The Politics Show on Sunday that a tournament to select one of the four nations to represent Britain would offer a solution. "For the Olympics, there is this need to have the one national team," he said. "Maybe the answer is to have a home tournament, see who wins, and that team goes forward – maybe that's one idea. We have got to settle this so there is a representative team."

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has made it clear he would like a combined British team to play, as has the British Olympic Association's chief executive, Simon Clegg, and the London organising committee chairman, Lord Coe.

A BOA spokesman said: "It is for the BOA, as the national Olympic committee, to select the teams at each Olympic Games and to decide which sports to enter. The BOA hopes that a way can be found to allow the four home nations Football Associations to agree to let their players put themselves forward for selection to both the men's and women's squads. The BOA will continue to discuss this issue further with IOC and Fifa officials."

The English FA is not opposed to a British team. It is almost certain that high-level political pressure will ensure a British team plays, even if it is comprised solely of English players, as at the 1908 and 1912 Games.

A Scottish FA spokesman said last night: "We remain completely opposed to the concept of a British team at the Olympics." The Wales and Northern Ireland FAs share that view, believing a British team will threaten the individual statuses of the home nations.

Even if the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish changed their minds on the principle – unlikely – they argue that there is no room in the calendar for a decisive tournament as suggested by Cameron.

The private view of more than one Scottish FA official is that "the politicians should bugger off out of it". The Independent also understands that Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, on a visit to Scotland earlier this year, told the Scottish FA he agreed with its stance.

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, said: "I'm not sure David Cameron is fully in command of the subject. The idea that in any sense or semblance we should risk the future of Scottish international football for the sake of participation in an under-21 tournament, the Olympics, I think is simply daft."