Men’s football and the Olympics have a strange relationship. The former, with its powerful international and national organisations and clubs, is too big to take the latter seriously, which accommodates it in a strange, strained way. The football competition at this year’s Olympics is taking place all across the country, increasing the feeling that it isn’t quite as much of a part of the Olympics as other sports, even more so because it started before the Opening Ceremony to fit in all the matches. For the men it is not just the U-23 age rule meaning it lacks stardust, but also because it fits awkwardly around clubs’ pre-season plans just after the European Championships and because of the qualification. Between them Africa and Asia have seven teams in the tournament; Europe and South America have just six, despite South American and European countries dominating international competitions. And then of course for Great Britain there is the sovereignty problem, where four football nations must come together. Welsh players have not sung the national anthem in a team dominate by the English.
Despite all this, the public seem to have taken to Olympic football (over 70,000 watched GB women against Brazil) and for GB women it is good publicity for women’s football in general in this country. It is hideously under-reported in the media, but at the Olympics the two genders are given similar coverage. The successes of men and women are equal in the currency of medals. I suppose the argument against giving more coverage to women’s football outside the Olympics is that it is not popular enough. However, of course, it will become more popular with more coverage.
As for the GB men’s team, it is also a good opportunity, this time to press the benefits of Olympic football for men. Now, whilst we are drunk on Olympic enthusiasm, is the time for me to put forward the case for GB men’s Olympic football to stay. Here are my five key reasons why:
- The age restriction could actually help as a feeder for the full England team. Under-21 players often don’t make it to the full side: of the ten most-capped players at Under-21 level, only one player, Gareth Barry, has more than 50 full caps. An Olympics squad will be a few years older and so it will be a better judge of who can establish themselves in the main team and the opportunity will help players with a better chance of doing this.
- It is great tournament experience for players, often before they will play in a tournament for the full national side. Playing international matches in quick succession and being in the international tournament environment can’t be harmful for the next World Cup or Euros.
- It is good experience for players of other home nations to play at a high level against strong teams. The best young Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish players (providing they get picked) who are in the GB squad will get something out of it not possible with their respective countries, which will in turn help these countries improve.
- For sentimental reasons, I like the idea of having a team representing the whole of Great Britain. It provides some variety from normal international football and evokes a different sort of unifying patriotism and support. We have a British and Irish Lions; this is a similar sort of thing.
- Football is our national game, or as we see it “our game”. Therefore it makes sense to provide a team for the Olympics, the ultimate international multi-sports competition. It could even add to our medal tally…
However, I suggest a few conditions before we enter:
- The football associations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland need extra guarantees that they will be able to keep their current privileges within FIFA; otherwise this will continue to be a stumbling block.
- The English football calendar is already full without another tournament in the summer. To ease pressure, we need a winter break. To make room for this, perhaps we could scrap FA Cup replays; and does pre-season need to be so long?
- Let’s take Olympic football seriously, not as a special ceremonial show. We should pick players with two aims: to make a high-quality squad and to help the future of the four national sides. This means no Ryan Giggs, and definitely no David Beckham.
*edited 03/08/12 16:12 to make small changes to text and add ‘Related posts’ section