There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of interest in taking part in the British Olympic football team. Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale have already posed in the GB shirt whilst Beckham and recently Jack Rodwell have said they’re keen to play too. The problem for the Welsh FA is that they don’t really want their players taking part in the Olympics for a number of reasons. Not only do they see the British team, which they have been opposed to since the start, as detracting from their national identity but they are also worried about the effects the competition will have on their chances in the qualifiers for the 2014 World cup which start shortly after the Olympics.
As far as preserving their identity as a football nation goes I think pettiness doesn’t even begins to describe the situation. Reports coming out of the WFA has seem to suggest that, in playing for Britain, their players will be the catalyst for some Welsh footballing apocalypse. I understand the concerns of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish authorities that it is damaging to their international status but considering that we have always competed in the Olympics as Great Britain I don’t see why the football should be any different. I also understand that they are concerned about their positions as independent countries on the International Football Association Board. However considering the weight that this competition has on the rest of the football community I really don’t see how forming a British team for a couple of weeks is going to change anything.
The slightly more pressing issue for the Welsh FA is the fact that they have to play their World Cup 2014 qualifiers after the summer and they’re understandably worried about burnout for Ramsey and Bale who won’t miss many games for their respective clubs this season either. This is a worry; we all know what happens when players are overplayed. Jack Wilshere is the perfect example of that. However every other nation will be in a similar position they will have either played in the European Championships or the Olympics, or both. Moreover, it’s likely to only be two of Wales’ players that make it in to the GB team the rest will be well rested. I understand that Ramsey and Bale carry the burden of the Welsh team but they cannot be denied this opportunity. The Welsh FA might suggest that to take part in the Olympics would hinder their chances of playing the world cup, which is undoubtedly more important, but ultimately there is no guarantee they would make it to the World Cup even if their stars were rested. Bale and Ramsey have never played in an international competition before and, with all possible respect to Wales, they may not get many more chances to do so.
The reviews have been mixed from managers too. Whilst Arsene Wenger is against it Redknapp has said that he thinks it is an opportunity that must be taken by the young players: “I think it’s a great honour for anyone to play in the Olympic games. It must be fantastic, something to look back on for years to come.”
The stance of the Welsh FA remains “unchanged” according to chief executive Jonathan Ford: “We are not for team GB.” The blunt rebuttal of the concept is enough to display the sincerity of their stance but they have stopped short of denying their players the right to take part: “Gareth can make his own choices and make his own decisions. But we are not going to stop anyone playing.”
Similar sentiments have been echoed by Wales manager Gary Speed and you begin to get the feeling that if the Welsh FA had the power to do so they would ban their players from playing. However, they don’t have the power. And instead of taking it as a depreciation of the national team I think the Welsh FA, and fans, should take it as a compliment that their two players, Bale and Ramsey, are perhaps the players that everyone is looking forward to seeing most pull on the GB shirt. It is the only time in my life that as an English Arsenal supporter I will get the chance to support Gareth Bale and frankly I’m quite looking forward to the prospect. Team GB should be something that unites us as countries, not embitters many as it has done. The Welsh FA may be worried about their chances dampened of participation in a future international competition but as far as I can see they should just be grateful to be taking part in this one.