The Last Word: Celts fail to embrace spirit of Games

Depressing refusal to grasp once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Britain take on rest of the world at football in 2012
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The Independent Football

If you forget Beijing, where most of the facilities seemed to be in place within months of the city being awarded the 2008 Games, this is usually the stage in the Olympic cycle where everyone starts to fret about whether the stadiums will be built in time. A combination of strikes, bad weather,poor organisation and even corruption usually guarantees a good crop of "Games in crisis" headlines.

Last week, however, Sebastian Coe announced that building on the main stadium for the 2012 Games in London had been completed, a month after Sir Chris Hoy had become the first cyclist to ride round the sparkling new velodrome. Work is continuing apace on the other venues with the aim of completing them all this year.

Nevertheless, these would not be the Olympics without some unresolved matters to provoke controversy. Much of the unfinished business concerns what could be described as political issues – which is ironic given that the Olympic movement has long championed the argument that politics and sport should not mix. Moreover, in light of the Olympic Delivery Authority'ssplendid job in constructing the venues, the failure to resolve some of these questions is becoming a blot on our sporting landscape.

To start with there is the post-Olympic future of the main stadium. Tottenham Hotspur still believe they deserve to be the tenants rather than West Ham, while little Leyton Orient complain, quite understandably, that football's own rules should prevent another club moving on to their manor. Given that London was awarded the Games in 2005, this should have been resolved long ago.

Then there is the unseemly row between the British Olympic Association and the organising committee for the 2012 Games, Locog. Here are two organisations you would presume would be singing from the same hymn sheet but, with the Games less than 18 months away, Colin Moynihan and Andy Hunt, the chairman and chief executive of the BOA, have been suspended from the Locog board because the BOA are taking Locog to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a dispute over what might happen to any profit from the Games.

The International Olympic Committee have already sided with Locog. Just what are the BOA thinking? They clearly believe they have a justifiable grievance but, with the eyes of the sporting world on Britain, a public scrap is clearly damaging.

Yet if there is one political argument that is more depressing than any other it is the ongoing wrangle over which home players should be allowed to compete in the Olympic football tournament. As it stands, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations are refusing to co-operate in the formation of a Great Britain squad, on the basis that it might set a dangerous precedent with regard to their own independence in international football.

That would leave the Football Association with the task of sending out a team composed entirely of English players, though an interesting situation could arise if they invited the likes of the Welshmen Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey or Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans into the squad. In such circumstances, would the blazerati of Cardiff and Belfast deny their fellow countrymen a chance to compete in the Olympics?

Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, the world game's governing body, has reiterated that the composition of a British Olympic team will have no implications beyond the Games. Some might doubt the value of Blatter's word, but this is surely an issue on which Fifa would not dare backtrack.

Forcing the English, Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish to amalgamate would be a legal minefield. It would also run counter to the trend of the past 20 years, which has seen a host of smaller countries granted their football independence following the break-up of the Eastern bloc.

Perhaps the Celtic nations – and England come to that – are wary of drawing attention to a privilege they enjoy but which they might find harder to defend. The four home countries have half the votes on the International Football Association Board, which acts as the guardian of the laws of the game and is responsible for making any changes. The IFAB was founded in 1886 by the four home associations, who still hold four of the seats, with Fifa taking the other four.

Why should the four home countries continue to wield such influence? How would they feel about a permanent responsibility for the laws of the game being put in the hands of, say, Honduras, Montenegro and Nigeria, who are all above Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in Fifa's current world-ranking list?

The stance of the Celtic nations shows a failure to embrace the spirit of the Games and to grasp this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Wouldn't it be rather fun to see a Great Britain team take on the rest of the world?

Maybe football should not be a part of the Games – a personal view is that they should feature only those sports for which the Olympics is the pinnacle – but at least football has come up with a format that differentiates it from other competitions, even if the presence of three over-age players in a tournament for under-23 players somewhat defeats the object.

For next year's host nation, the Games offer a rare chance to see how a team bringing together the best players from each of the home countries would fare, even if we are only talking of a certain age group. Considering how often we speculate how many Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish players would get into an England squad, would it not be interesting to put the theory to the test? It will be 64 years since the Games were last staged here and for most of us this will be the only home Olympics we will enjoy. We deserve to see our footballers given the chance to perform on such a stage.

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