Inside Lines: Bale set to be test case in fight to play in GB Olympic team

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The Independent Online

The Tottenham Hotspur and Wales star Gareth Bale is set to become the focus of an escalating dispute over the composition of a Great Britain football team in the 2012 Olympics in London which could culminate in a legal battle.

The 21-year-old winger, regarded as the most exciting young talent in British football, has indicated his strong desire to play in a line-up which is likely to be managed by his Spurs boss Harry Redknapp, but he has been warned that he faces suspension by the Welsh FA who, along with the governing bodies of Scotland and Northern Ireland, are peevishly refusing to allow their players – both male and female – to take part in the Games.

However, the British Olympic Association chairman Colin Moynihan is determined that selection for a Great Britain XI must not be restricted to English players, and if necessary will back Bale – or any other Home Countries player – to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

In this situation Bale could become as significant a figure in football law as the "soccer suffragettes" George Eastham and Jean-Marc Bosman who, in 1963 and 1995 respectively, won landmark rulings over players' rights in the transfer system.

The three refusenik associations say they fear if their players participate in a GB Olympic team, Fifa could then insist on a joint British World Cup team, despite the written assurance of Fifa president Sepp Blatter that this will not happen. But Moynihan argues that all home nations players must be considered as an England-only team would be in breach of the Olympic charter.

And should Bale persist in his bid, it is hard to see what action the Welsh FA could take. They can't stop their 27-times capped star from playing for Tottenham, who come under the jurisdiction of the English FA; and would they dare risk the wrath of Welsh fans – and new manager Gary Speed – by suspending the best player Wales have had since Ryan Giggs and thereby lose the little hope they have of qualifying for the World Cup?

Do leave orf, boyos!

Clean and knee-jerk

Sometimes you despair of British sporting bureaucracy. The arbitrary decision by British Weight Lifting to suspend the Olympic funding of teenage prodigy Zoë Smith would be farcical if it wasn't so tragic.

This is the charismatic runner-up to Tom Daley as Young Sports Personality of the Year, who has heaved a seriously underachieving sport (just two Olympic medallists in half a century) out of its mediocrity by winning a historic Commonwealth Games bronze at 16 and breaking 317 records.

So, primarily because she was deemed "overweight" at a training camp they questioned her commitment and stopped her funding – as they did once before in a dispute over her coaching programme. As her mum says, "they seem to forget she's still just a kid, a growing girl who deserves encouragement and support, not punishment".

It's hard to conceive of any other sports body that would take such absurdly heavy-handed action against a genuine 2012 medal prospect, when surely a quiet word would have sufficed. If her appeal fails next month, the "gutted" Zoe is likely to quit sport.

By Gove, he's got it

As first predicted here, the Education Secretary Michael Gove, seasonally portraying himself somewhere between Scrooge and Santa, has stopped short of a complete U-turn but at least restored a portion of the ringfenced £162 million, albeit temporarily, for the schools sports partnership coaching system. Thus a moral victory for athlete power following the petitioning by past and present Olympians.

Clearly Prime Minister David Cameron had a word in Gove's ear as the announcement coincided with his own photo opportunity with schoolkids at the Olympic Park. It also came as the Sport and Recreation Alliance – the CCPR that was – announced that nine major sports bodies had committed to reinvest at least 30 per cent of TV revenues, around £250m a year, into grassroots sport.

The thought occurs that if just half went into school sports the coaching programme could be fully funded and restored in its entirety without the Government (i.e. taxpayers) forking out and everyone would have a happier Christmas and certainly a more prosperous New Year. Which is what we wish all readers.