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Nov 12, 2008

GB Olympic side still in doubt despite assurances

The prospect of a British football team competing in the London 2012 Olympics appears no closer despite fresh assurances from FIFA over the independence of the four home nations.

Jim Murphy, Secretary of State for Scotland, was told by officials from football's world governing body this week that a united British Olympic team would in no way impact on the privileges enjoyed by the four British associations as FIFA members.

Labour minister Murphy presented the FIFA pledge as a breakthrough, telling BBC Radio Scotland: ''Scottish teenagers of today can be the Olympians of 2012 and can do so safe in the knowledge that the Scottish national team is safe.''

However, the Scottish Football Association, who are supported by their counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland, believe the creation of a British Olympic side would encourage a challenge against their right to compete individually at the World Cup and European Championships and against the unique voting rights the four benefit from.

''While we would welcome any statement from FIFA, we have to be clear that FIFA is an organisation made up of its members - and it is their views on the precedent that a Team GB would set that are so important in this issue,' said an SFA spokesman.

''We await with interest the outcome of FIFA's deliberations next month but we must be clear on this: We will not do anything that we feel would jeopardise our status as a footballing nation in our own right. At this stage, we feel that a Team GB does just that. At some point, there is a real danger that a precedent of a Team GB will come back and threaten our status as a separate nation.''

The power of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish FAs on FIFAs International FA Board is a key concern. The board, which acts as the custodian of the game's laws, comprises FIFA and the four home nations thanks to their historical role in the game.

FIFA has four votes on the board and the four other FAs one each, which, it could be argued, means that FIFA's other 204 member associations are unrepresented.

Two years ago former SFA chief executive David Taylor warned that the ''gentleman's agreement'' that allows Scotland to compete separately could be challenged at any time, regardless of pledges from FIFA officials.

FIFA confirmed they had spoken to Murphy but also revealed the pledges were not new.

''The FIFA president, Joseph Blatter, has said on several occasions that a British Olympic football team for the 2012 Olympic Games would not affect the privileges of the four British associations as members of FIFA,' said a FIFA spokesperson.

''On the occasion of a private meeting [on Tuesday] with Mr Jim Murphy, Secretary of State for Scotland, the FIFA secretary general, Jerome Valcke, expressed himself along the same lines on that subject.''

Earlier this week Raymond Kennedy, president of the Irish Football Association reiterated his opposition when responding to Conservative party leader David Cameron's calls for British representation at the 2012 games.

Kennedy said: ''We feel we have enough football. We have the European Championships and the World Cup, we are playing continually. I don't see any need to have football as an Olympic sport. It is also held at the height of the football season, which would make it difficult to get players.''

The only home nation to back the campaign for a United British team is the English FA, who reiterated their support, saying: ''We have always said we believe there is a very strong case for a British team in the Olympics, considering they will be held in London.

''We are committed to providing players to that team. Ideally we would like to do that with the other home nations, but if they do not agree, we are happy to carry on.''

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