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A Pending Problem for Team GB in 2016 and Beyond

Posted: 19/08/2012 17:52

The inclusion of a Team GB football team sparked much interest. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland united, albeit unsuccessfully, under one football banner. Yet due to the qualification requirements for Rio 2016, it seems unlikely that we will see an incarnate of a Team GB football team any time soon. These requirements change every Olympics, but usually they require progress to the final four of the regional u21 Tournament (e.g. Euro u21) or some regions have bespoke tournaments for qualification. As long as qualification for European countries continues to be from Euro u21 rather than a specialist u23 tournament, Team GB will be absent because the component nations of the UK compete separately in Euro u21. Thus Team GB as a whole are not eligible for qualification.

It is a predicament that is not confined solely to football. The qualification dilemma could plausibly manifest itself when Rugby Sevens becomes an Olympic sport in 2016. Team GB's participation may only be possible if there is a bespoke qualification tournament. A Team GB squad of Wales, Scotland and England would be tantalising due to its similarities with the Lions team. That alone would help rugby fans to have significant interest in the games. It would not just the U.K that would be impeded without a specialist qualifying tournament. The Irish team is made up of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Thus, Irish qualification could be ruled null and void due to the players they selected. This is based on the assumption that the IRB use the same methods as FIFA use for qualification. There have been rumours of plans to enter a specialised GB team into the 2015-16 World Sevens Series season as a way to prepare for the games, but that has yet to be confirmed. The history of cooperation between these nations led one rugby pundit to comment that the problem will be solved 'with a great more maturity than the Celtic football associations managed to muster'. He may well be right, but clarity is certainly needed on this point. The IRB have promised an answer on the qualification process by 2014. It will be interesting to see how they and the individual rugby boards tackle this problem.

Such a problem is not confined to these two sports or just to Britain and Ireland. There has been much clamour for Twenty-20 cricket's inclusion as an Olympic sport. If this were to occur, what would become of the West Indies? This is the contrary problem to that of Team GB, as the component nations would have to compete individually. Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago would have to send individual cricket teams to the Olympics. For Team GB crickets entails less obstacles then football. England and Wales already play as one team under the banner of England. Scotland play as an independent country, but there is precedent to Scottish cricketers not playing for Scotland. Dougie Brown, Gavin Hamilton and most famously, Mike Denness have all represented England. In fact, one of England's current star players in the Twenty-20 format is an Irishman, Eoin Morgan.

The key problem here is with teams that play across or within national boundaries in pre-Olympic years and the qualification procedures that they would partake in. This problem takes on added importance for rugby and cricket. The number of quality football teams does not significantly decrease without Team GB. If Ireland and the U.K were absent from rugby, and Ireland, the U.K, and the West Indies were absent from cricket, then the quality of these tournaments will be damaged. Both Sevens and Twenty-20 have shown that they lend themselves to less established nations succeeding. Yet the Olympics should be a place where the best compete against each other. That is not to say that exceptions should be made. However it does demonstrate that clarity is required on these issues. The sooner that clarity comes, the better prepared all countries can be.

 

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