It’s the revenge of the Scottish independence campaign after last year’s “och, no” vote: there won’t be a British soccer team at the 2016 Olympics, because everyone hates the English.
Since the Untied Kingdom is a collection of different countries, except when it isn’t, its nations compete separately in some competitions and together as Team GB in others. When London hosted the 2012 Olympics, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland banded together (kind of) to form men’s and women’s teams that, in keeping with English tradition, flamed out at the quarterfinal stage.
This was supposed to be a one-off, but the English FA thought it’d be jolly to get the band back together for 2016. The whole “let’s try and win a tournament, gain valuable exposure for the women’s game and give our young players invaluable experience” argument. Oh, the naivety.
The proposal was slammed by the other associations, who were horrified by the idea, as if entering the Olympics and getting to spend a few weeks in Rio was akin to being strapped into a chair and force-fed expired mayonnaise until you puke and get salmonella.
Even at London 2012 the non-English associations were massively reluctant. The men’s roster consisted of 13 Englishmen and five Welshmen. There were two Scots in the women’s squad.
The fear is that if the U.K. nations get too cozy at the Olympics, FIFA will say, Hey, you’re just one country, so at the next World Cup, you have to enter as Team GB, too. Obviously, this would be one way for the planet to actually see a Welshman, Northern Irishman and Scotsman at a World Cup. It’d give Gareth Bale the stage he deserves.
But it would also give FIFA the chance to terminate the anachronistic privileges the four nations enjoy as a result of modern soccer being invented in the U.K. and force them to combine into one unhappy family. And then there’d be a huge sporting-political clusterfuck, with massed troops of men in kilts being dispatched to Hadrian’s Wall, throwing scones and crumpets over the border. Whiskey exports to London would be banned. Kenny Dalglish would be thrown in the Tower of London. It’d be a mess, basically.
The national teams of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales may have limited impact on the global game these days, but those four have a massive say in how soccer is played. Laws are formed and changed by the International Football Association Board: its voting rights are 50 percent FIFA, 50 percent the U.K. nations. Unless two of the U.K. nations agree, no Laws of the Game can ever get changed.
See, the British Empire’s not quite dead, after all. It’s just that where once it ran India, Australia, and much of Africa, it’s now controlling the offside rule and goalline technology.