In today’s Western Mail, Andrew RT Davies, the Welsh Conservative leader, makes a case for the inclusion of Welsh players in a Team GB football side at this year’s Olympics. He’s wrong.
His argument is based on the following points:
1. It’s a one off and for Ryan Giggs this is his last opportunity to play in a major tournament.
If it’s individual Welsh players’ chances of competing in tournaments that matter then why stop at the Olympics? After all, Bale and co will have a better chance of making it to Brazil 2014 as part of a UK team. The argument that individuals matter more than their nation cannot be taken up or cast aside according to circumstances. The wishes of, or sentiment for, any individual player should never take precedence over the interests of his club or national team.
2. ‘Recent statements from the FIFA president have indicated that one-off participation would not jeopardise our independent status as a national association’
This is the key issue. Unfortunately there are older statements from the FIFA president where he essentially says completely the opposite (see Bethan Jenkins’ reply article on the same page). If Blatter’s changed his mind once he can change it again.
Moreover, as a politician, Davies should really know that the leadership and direction of democratic institutions can change. His argument is rather like saying that because David Cameron says something now, no other future prime minister will ever say or do the opposite. Even if it’s 50 years before a future FIFA leader raises a precedent from 2012 to question the special status of the UK nations, a Team GB would prove to be a mistake. We have to remember that to many in the football world the position of non-independent nations having independent status purely because the game was invented here seems illogical. There are already plenty of precedents to the issue being questioned and discussed. Why take the risk and give ammunition to opponents?
3. A Team GB will not undermine a sense of Welsh nationhood.
He’s right here, but this argument is irrelevant. The case against a football Team GB is nothing to do with whether Wales is British or not. It is about whether Wales is able to retain its independence in the football world, not in any other world.
4. Our footballing talent stands to gain much from ‘exposing themselves to high level international competition’.
Presumably this means in developing their experience rather than their exposure to potential employers. Perhaps Bale and co will develop their talents through the experience, but there are many, many more Welsh players who will lose out on international experience if Wales cease to have their own international side.
5. ‘Giving young Welsh people the opportunity to watch their Welsh heroes playing for Team GB will have obvious benefits for increasing sports participation.’
Will it really? Is there any evidence for this at all? Are there really young kids around who would take up football just because Bale is playing for Team GB? If these guys are heroes already, then the kids must already be watching them for Wales, Spurs etc. Why would kids be watching the football Olympics at all, if they didn’t like football already?
6. The involvement of Welsh players ‘will place our nation in the global shop window with obvious economic benefits’.
Again, is there evidence for this? If there are economic benefits to Welsh players in a Team GB, they aren’t even remotely obvious to me. Will watchers even know Bale, Ramsey and whoever is on the bench are Welsh? Will there be some industrialist watching who thinks, “What a great player. I must open a factory near where he comes from”?
7. Not taking part will damage Wales economically and culturally.
Presumably the economic argument is the imagined opportunities discussed in point 6. The cultural damage Davies foresees seems to be that we will be isolated from ‘our British neighbours’. Quite how not taking part in a short football tournament (some of which is held in Wales anyway) amounts to cultural damage is not clear. Did the UK’s non participation in any of any of the recent Olympic tournaments hurt Wales culturally? Did anyone here even care? Why does the fact that the Olympics are in the UK mean this issue suddenly matters?
In conclusion, a football Team GB is a potential threat to the independent status of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in football. Yes, it is not a definite threat but it is a risk.
Sometimes we need to takes risks in life when there are obvious rewards for doing so. In this case there are no overall rewards for doing so, whereas the potential fallout would change Welsh sporting history forever.
People who look at the history of FIFA know that. The FAW and SFA know that. Any Welsh player who wants to pull on that GB shirt, and any fan or politician encouraging him to do so, needs to know that. If you believe Wales should have its own football team, you have to be opposed to Welsh players in football’s Team GB.