Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

11 March 2009

Shorts (3): Would a football Team GB be illegal?

I see another English government minister (the Sports Minister – for England only – Gerry Sutcliffe) has been sticking his oar in where he is neither qualified nor welcome to speak, insisting that: “A Great Britain football team will take part in the London 2012 Olympics even if it consists entirely of English players”.

I don’t know why Mr Sutcliffe feels he has any jurisdiction in the matter, as his governmental responsibilities for sport, and hence for football, are limited to England, not ‘Great Britain’ or the UK. But this sort of overstepping of legally defined areas of competency may be required to force through a football Team GB against the wishes of the Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the supporters of all four national UK teams, including those of England.

I’m wondering whether any decision to go ahead with an all-English Team GB would be open to legal challenge on at least two, possibly three grounds:

  1. The FA’s (that is, the English FA’s) constitution limits its responsibilities to “all regulatory aspects of the game of football in England”. I read this to mean that the FA is not legally entitled or even authorised by its own rules to select or regulate anything such as a ‘Great Britain’ football team.
  2. Team GB itself is selected by the British Olympic Association “in conjunction with the governing bodies, from the best sportsmen and women”. The reference to the ‘governing bodies’ means the governing bodies in the UK for the relevant sports. Those for football are listed as the FA and the associations for Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Therefore, if the BOA and the FA ignore the unwillingness of the SFA, FAW and IFA respectively to put forward names of their countrymen and -women for selection for Team GB – and even to recognise the validity of such a team – I would have thought this would be open to legal challenge on the grounds of flouting the established rules for selecting Team GB.
  3. This could also potentially be challenged on the grounds of discrimination: the BOA and FA could be accused of discrimination if they excluded Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish footballers from being selected. If, on the other hand, they did pick footballers from those countries who made it clear they wanted to be considered, this could be regarded as undermining the legally recognised authority of the national associations to regulate the game in their countries. Of course, accusing the BOA and the FA of discrimination in this way could backfire on the other associations, who could also be accused of discrimination for making their compatriots ineligible. However, such a legal challenge, if it were taken out by the BOA or FA, could also be viewed as questioning the authority of the associations to regulate the professional game in their countries. So the whole thing could get incredibly messy!

Maybe if the FA and the BOA persist in their offensive insistence on an unwanted football Team GB, legal action of the types I suggest might be the way to block it. The whole thing could drag on for years, making it impossible to proceed with plans, preparations and appointments for any eventual team.

Might be worth considering if the worst comes to the worst.



  1. I think the SFA have accepted that a legal challenge to an invitation GB football team isn’t really on and that the only option available to them would be retrospective ‘disciplinary’ action against any Scottish player who accepted an invitation to play in a GB team in the form of future non-selection.

    You mention ‘governing bodies’ in the plural but only the FA is a member of the National Olympic Committee of the BOA. That’s been the frustrating thing for the BOA – they have no ‘handle’ whatsoever on the other three associations and have had to resort to megaphone diplomacy via the London media.

    As to Andy Burnham’s suggestion of a ‘blackleg GB 11’ i.e. tapping up a handful of non-English players to see if they’re prepared to defy their governing bodies, I really don’t think the FA particularly want to get involved in such a thing – that would be ‘messy’ –they’d much rather put out English men and women teams.

    Comment by Hendre — 11 March 2009 @ 10.17 am | Reply

  2. […] that there will be a Team GB even if it is made up of only English players, an insistence that Britology Watch finds dubious at […]

    Pingback by Little Man in a Toque » Blog Archive » Mark Field lobs unsettled Scottish goalie — 11 March 2009 @ 1.10 pm | Reply

  3. Since England is about 84% of the total UK population then England would have at minimum nine players on the pitch in any British Football team even if all the player’s in all four associations were of equal ability.

    However since the English League is so much bigger, and to be honest better, than the Scottish, Welsh and NI Leagues combined I would be surprised if any Scots at all got into a British Olympic team even if the SFA, FAW and IFA supported it.

    The question isn’t about the make-up of the team it’s that the Government think that they can simply ignore the wishes of the Scots, Welsh and NI and put up an English only football team as British even if it means risking the future of all four associations in the UK. The only association not worried is the FA as they’re so big it would be a takeover not an amalgamation if FIFA forced the issue of a British football team.

    For a government so obsessed about, “Britishness”, and cohesiveness in the country it seems a bit odd that they are antagonising all the non-English FA’s, their supporters and even the English football supporters with their demand for a British team.

    It’s strange but it’s almost as if they regard Scotland, Wales and NI as add-ons to Britain rather than integral parts of it and England as the true core of Britain. It’s the only way I can work out why they are happy to field an English team as British in the Olympics while giving the wishes of the Scots, Welsh and Irish the brush-off.

    Comment by DougtheDug — 11 March 2009 @ 4.38 pm | Reply

    • I think they’re idiots, basically, Dougthedug – or deluded fantasists, to be perhaps a bit more ‘charitable’ towards them. The Olympic organisers and their government backers are true worshippers in the temple of Great Britain; and they’ve built up the Olympics into a grandiose celebration of their idea of modern multi-cultural Britain – with the cultural Olympics spinning the narrative ‘meaning’ of the Olympics as a coming together of the global community that Britain itself is supposed to typify and embody. And as football is the global game and was created in its modern form in Britain (well, England, actually) at the height of the British Empire (the first flowering of universal-global Britain), it would be humiliating for them not to have a ‘Great Britain’ football team in the British Olympics. More than humiliating, in fact, because it would give the lie to their vision of a Britain that has transcended traditional ‘narrow’ nationhood and transformed itself into a microcosm of the global community itself. It’s as if football would become the vehicle through which the nations of Britain would be rejecting ‘Team GB’ as a whole and, within that, the very idea of a ‘nation’-beyond-nationhood that is Great Britain: at the very British Olympics that is intended to celebrate that concept.

      So really, rather like the legendary Bill Shankley’s assessment of the life-and-death importance of football, this is about much more than ‘mere’ football, as you say; it’s about the survival of the whole idea of Great Britain. And it typifies the government’s whole attitude and behaviour on the subject: if the smaller nations reject the idea, we’ll keep the [Olympic] flame of Britishness burning even if it’s limited to, and (super)imposed on, England.

      Comment by David — 11 March 2009 @ 6.03 pm | Reply

  4. I don’t think Seb Coe’s contribution in all this should be underestimated. I’ve come across an article back in 2004 where he enthuses about a GB football team, notes that the four associations are definitely ‘in discussions’ but that it’s not his place to interfere!

    When the London bid team went out to Singapore in 2005 I don’t believe they had received any serious indication that a composite British side would be agreed. The inclusion of David Beckham and Sven Goran Erickson as prominent members of that bid team was an attempt to “up the ante” and put pressure on the other associations.

    Did the BOA’s London bid team, after one too many Singapore slings, promise too much? Did they do a hard sell on a GB football team both to the IOC and their commercial partners and are desperately trying to save face?

    Comment by Hendre — 12 March 2009 @ 10.08 am | Reply

  5. Hendre:

    “Did they do a hard sell on a GB football team both to the IOC and their commercial partners and are desperately trying to save face?”

    That’s an interesting thought. I’ve always assumed that a GB football team was driven soley by Brown’s Britishness agenda but it may have been one of the BOA’s selling points for the London Olympics along the lines of, “Give London the Olympics and you’ll get a GB football team for the first time since 1972”, which would be sold as boosting the TV interest in the football competition.

    If it was a BOA promise it says a lot about the parochialism of the BOA. The SFA, FAW and latterly the IFA latched onto the threat to their independence pretty quickly. None of them can see the point of throwing away their entire future for the sake of a single U23 tournament in 2012.

    Talking of parochial viewpoints it was interesting that even though Mark Field was against a British team he viewed it as a threat to the Scottish League not as a threat to both the Scottish and the English Leagues. Neither would survive a combined British League in their present form. Perhaps it’s an indication of the England is Britain viewpoint. The English league is essentially the British league and the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Leagues are viewed as minor regional leagues in the UK.

    “Let us say that there was a GB team for the Olympics. Almost inevitably, despite what Albert Owen had to say, demand would grow for a GB team for all competitions. It might lead to the end of the Scottish league.”

    It would actually lead to the end of all four independent leagues in the UK.

    Comment by DougtheDug — 12 March 2009 @ 10.58 am | Reply

  6. Well, the London bid team certainly found some way or other of stitching up the French!

    As you say, increased television audiences for the football competition would have been a nice little selling point to the IOC. Merchandising opportunities would have appealed to the commercial sponsors – just think of all those replica shirt sales …

    As the BOA’s website puts it:

    “The BOA is not funded or controlled by government, has no political interests and is completely dependent upon commercial sponsorship and fundraising income.”

    It may not have ‘political interests’ but it’s hardly a disinterested party when it comes to the commercial aspects of the Olympics.

    As for Mark Field’s remarks, yes, there’s been plenty of talk about the threat to the three ‘small’ or ‘Celtic’ associations but not much about the threat of English football being wiped off the face of the earth! Rather a dramatic way of putting it but that in effect is what would happen if the four associations were amalgamated.

    Comment by Hendre — 12 March 2009 @ 12.12 pm | Reply

  7. “It’s strange but it’s almost as if they regard Scotland, Wales and NI as add-ons to Britain rather than integral parts of it and England as the true core of Britain. It’s the only way I can work out why they are happy to field an English team as British in the Olympics while giving the wishes of the Scots, Welsh and Irish the brush-off.”

    Get over yourself mate. Whats the matter then? I gather you don’t like having your identity messed with? Neither do the English. Do you complain about the English nation not having it’s own parliament? Thought not. You people are naive. The eurolanders are as much as against you as they are us. Pity you lot gave them the chance to mess with us ah?

    Sutcliffe can s*ck my n*tsack. I would never, ever, watch a gb team even if it was full of English players. Incidentally, what English players will they use? The good ones are not going to be allowed to play in this gb team. Their clubs won’t allow it. This whole idea is f*ckin’ idiotic. Then again, I expect nothing less from the morons who supposedly govern “the country”. Do you?

    Comment by M Anderson — 20 March 2009 @ 5.28 pm | Reply

  8. Lord F*ckem back in today’s Telegraph on the the 2018 bid.

    “Our vision in bringing the Olympic and Paralympic Games back to these shores was clear cut. Big sporting events change lives, attitudes, and communities. Our teams at 2012 owe a debt of gratitude to football for helping us to globalise our bidding message. ”

    I rest my case …

    Comment by Hendre — 31 March 2009 @ 10.45 am | Reply

    • Oh well, f*ck ‘im, indeed!

      Comment by David — 31 March 2009 @ 9.55 pm | Reply

  9. I do not see why we cannot have British olympic football team, without putting our home nations at risk. We do so in hockey, and other sports. Also I think more scots would get in that side proportionally as population is to their nation, as their are the same number of players getting international experience.

    Comment by \isleofmanhouses — 27 February 2010 @ 9.56 pm | Reply

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