DID Wales “block” Team GB from competing in women’s football at the Rio Olympics as the leader of the Welsh Conservatives claims?
Jess Fishlock, of Wales, controls the ball during a 0-0 draw in a friendly international with the Republic of Ireland
After all “Great Britain had qualified” according to the BBC commentator as Germany kicked off the final that would see them claim the gold medal by beating Sweden two goals to one.
Sweden are the team that many seem to believe had “taken” the Olympic place vacated by Great Britain. Team GB was unable to take its “rightful place” due to opposition from the football associations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – or so we’re told.
After too many late nights transfixed by Olympic TV coverage Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies even ordered a party press release be issued attacking the Football Association of Wales and its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland for “petty nationalism” in opposing the Team GB women’s football side.
Davies believes the three had “blocked” a Team GB entry in the women’s football competition, “in a huge blow to the development of the game”.
And in fairness Davies and his shadow sports secretary, Russell George, are correct to say Olympic women’s football is on a par with the Women’s World Cup in terms of prestige, popularity and competitiveness. It’s easy to understand why the competition could be attractive to female footballers from the three countries as well as England. Team GB’s participation would obviously boost the profile of the women’s game in the UK, as the politicians say.
But Davies, the BBC announcer and an increasing number of ill-informed commentators seem to have overlooked the fact Great Britain hadn’t even taken part in the Olympic qualifying process.
England would have qualified for the Olympics if it had a National Olympic Committee, but like Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland it doesn’t and probably isn’t eligible for International Olympic Committee recognition. But it seems the third place finish the England Women’s team achieved at last year’s World Cup is what has reignited Davies’ passion for a Great Britain football team.
The Welsh Assembly Member has form for attacking the three Celtic associations for their consistent opposition to an Olympic football team representing Great Britain. Despite Davies’ enthusiastic support the three opposed the men’s and women’s Team GB sides that had been put together by the English FA to take the host nation places at the 2012 London Olympics.
But for all the progressive arguments Davies can make for the development of women’s sport he can’t overcome the realities of the British Olympic Association and the standing of the four ‘home nations’ in international football. A Team GB would be reliant on four independent football nations entering a joint team for the Olympics in a way no other countries do.
How would the other teams at the Olympics react to find rather than playing the qualifiers, England in 2016 – perhaps Wales in 2020 -, they must instead compete against Great Britain? A team drawn from a squad good enough to qualify as of right and improved by the best players from neighbouring countries.
Even if the ‘home nations’ could reach agreement they are just four of 211 member nations in FIFA, world football’s governing body. While Davies and the English FA can’t persuade three associations to support a Team GB – the danger is a majority of the other 207 associations may well back a Great Britain football team but not the continuation of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – who all basically compete internationally under grandfather rights – as independent football nations.
In his press release Davies refers to “firm assurances that the status of individual nations would not be affected”, he says given by FIFA. Davies avoids saying it was the ousted and discredited former FIFA president Sepp Blatter who’d given those “assurances”.
Davies risks sounding like a former Conservative Prime Minister who infamously believed he’d returned from Munich with an agreement worth celebrating. The Tory chief should read this detailed post by Welsh historian Martin Johnes which explains why no such assurances over the continued independence of the British associations can be given or relied upon.
If Davies, or anyone else, is complacent about the threat to the four ‘home nations’ due to England’s enthusiasm remember it is England that has the least to lose. The English FA, as the biggest in financial terms, would be poised to transform itself into the British FA – or as they currently like to be known, the FA.
Whatever the name of the association and the team on paper it would just as often be referred to as England. Already during the Rio Olympics the Great Britain Women’s rugby 7’s team has been called ‘England’ by BBC analyst Clive Woodward. Before the Olympics even started British Broadcasting Corporation presenter Tina Daheley referred to the 2012 team as England in a one-sided discussion during the Women’s Football Show on how the Olympics were an opportunity missed.
What Davies is guilty of is a poorly thought out proposal. He hasn’t considered the realities of international football or the knock-on effects of a Team GB competing once every four years, if one of four independent countries qualifies.
Perhaps what Davies and those who think Team GB has been denied its rightful Olympic place should consider is whether women’s football should break away from their national associations to form a full-time Great Britain Women’s National Team. Would it be possible, could the ‘home nations’, remain as FIFA members if they only field male teams? What would be the wider implications on national identity?
So did Wales block Team GB’s entry from a competition it had never entered, never mind qualified for? Obviously not and we know how badly researched the Conservative statement was thanks to Russell George.
The shadow cabinet secretary for sport says: “Players like Jess Fishlock have been deprived of an opportunity to get major international experience, and to represent Team GB in the way that so many other Welsh sports stars do at the Olympics.”
If only George and Davies had remembered how the then England manager Hope Powell selected 16 English women and two Scots for her 2012 Team GB squad with the Wales captain Jess Fishlock, the first oversees player in the Dutch Eredivisie, deprived of an opportunity of major international experience, and to represent Team GB in the Olympics as so many other Welsh sports stars have.