Tuesday 6 December 2016

Prospect of a Team GB football team at Tokyo 2020 looks more likely

Published 14/09/2016 | 20:51

Team GB could return to the Olympic football tournament
Team GB could return to the Olympic football tournament

The prospect of Team GB competing in the Olympic football tournament at Tokyo 2020 looks more likely after the home nations held talks on the issue before the UEFA congress in Athens on Wednesday.

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The chairmen and chief executives of the four British football associations met for what new Football Association chairman Greg Clarke described as "four equal countries having a discussion".

And Clarke said they will continue to discuss the matter annually after years of not talking to each other, for reasons he said nobody could remember.

Team GB fielded Olympic football teams at London 2012 for the first time in more than five decades but no attempt was made to repeat the experiment for Rio, with the Football Association of Wales, Irish Football Association and Scottish Football Association worried that any move to play as a unified team could tempt FIFA to reconsider their independent status.

But FA chief executive Martin Glenn believes that is no longer a concern.

"FIFA has indicated that it's not a problem," said Glenn shortly after the vote to elect Aleksander Ceferin as new UEFA president.

"The big fear in the past was that if we did it we would jeopardise our independent country status. But that was sorted out under (former FIFA president Sepp) Blatter actually and (new president) Gianni Infantino has reinforced it.

"So that's not the issue. The issue is the individual interests of each home nation.

"There's a Great Britain interest, of which we're all part, but does it suit the individual interest of (each) home nation? And that's what we're going to work through."

This will be welcomed by the British Olympic Association, which was particularly upset in Rio that it had been unable to field a women's team. In his end-of-Games review, BOA chief executive Bill Sweeney said he thought a genuine medal shot had been squandered.

That frustration was and still is shared by the players who would have made up the women's squad, the majority of them coming from the England side that finished third at the 2015 Women's World Cup.

But the perception the team would be a rebranded England side is one of the reasons the other nations have been reluctant to sanction the idea, although that is clearly not so much of an issue for the men's team, with Northern Ireland and Wales outperforming England at this summer's European Championships.

The Northern Irish, Scots and Welsh have other concerns, though, with the FA's status as the BOA's designated governing body being another bone of contention, although Clarke has already said he is willing to see that rotated between the four associations.

The former English Football League chairman, who is only nine days into his new role, has also suggested there could be a minimum number of places for players and staff from each country, and the manager's position could also be rotated.

Despite this, Press Association Sport understands there is still considerable opposition to the idea of fielding a men's team, not least from the clubs who are reluctant to see more of their players involved in international summer tournaments.

It is also not clear that the FA is that excited about the men's competition, which remains something of muddle as it is an under-23 tournament with three over-age players allowed.

Even Infantino recently described it as "neither fish nor fowl" and said revising it with the International Olympic Committee was one of his priorities.

Press Association

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