GB Olympic football team: Q & A

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The Independent Online

Q: Who is eligible to play?

A: Different rules apply for the men's and women's tournaments. In the case of the men, countries are represented by an Under-23 team - though three over-age players are allowed. There are no age limits for the women's tournament.

For the British team, players from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will all be eligible to appear, though this has been a controversial subject.

Q: How so?

A: The Scottish, Welsh and Irish Football Associations are opposed to a combined GB team and feel that allowing their players to feature would compromise their independent status within FIFA, though they have accepted (publicly or privately) that they will be powerless to prevent their players taking part should they so wish.

The only player who has so far ruled out playing is Julie Fleeting, a prolific striker for the Arsenal and Scotland women's teams. Club and country strike partner Kim Little, though, is keen to be involved.

On the men's side, Wales starlets Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey hope to play, with Ramsey saying last month: "If given the opportunity, it's one that I'd like to take. I've heard that Gareth has the same feelings towards that."

Q: Why is the English FA in charge of picking the teams?

A: The responsibility ultimately falls to the British Olympic Association but they delegate this on a sport-by-sport basis to governing bodies. Generally these have responsibility for the sport across the United Kingdom (for example UK Athletics, British Cycling), but there are occasions when the organisation for one country takes overall charge.

In the case of England Hockey or Scotland's Royal Caledonian Curling Club, this is a question of resources, but the BOA's hand has been forced in football by the other countries' opposition to the project.

Q: With all this fuss, are Great Britain generally any good in the tournament?

A: Britain won three of the first four men's tournaments - in 1904, 1908 and 1912 - but competed without further success in every Games up until Munich 1972 (apart from Los Angeles 1932, when the sport did not appear). In 1974, the FA scrapped the distinction between amateur and professional players and this year will be the team's first appearance since then.

Women's football only made its first appearance at the 1996 Games, in Atlanta, so this will be the first appearance by a British women's team.

Q: How many teams play in the tournament?

A: Sixteen in the men's tournament, 12 in the women's.

Q: Which nations have qualified?

A: The women's line-up is almost complete, with just two CONCACAF nations, one from Oceania and a second from Africa to join the host nation, World Cup winners Japan, much-fancied Brazil, Colombia, North Korea, South Africa, Sweden and France. Nigeria and Cameroon will play off for the second African berth on Saturday, with Nigeria leading 2-1 from the first leg.

In the men's tournament, only the European qualifiers - Spain, Switzerland, Belarus and the hosts - and those from South America - Brazil and Uruguay - are known.

Q: Who are the reigning gold medallists?

A: Reigning men's champions Argentina will be absent from the tournament after only finishing third in this year's South American Youth Championship, which served as the qualifying event. Women's title-holders the United States will expect to qualify from the CONCACAF preliminary competition, which takes place in January.