Nigel Worthington says he doesn’t have a problem with Northern Ireland players competing in a GB team at the Olympics next year.
The Irish Football Association and their Scottish and Welsh counterparts are fiercely opposed to a Great Britain side at the Olympics but they are powerless to stop players making themselves available for selection.
A number of Northern Ireland players including Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart and Josh McQuoid could feature in a GB side and Worthington says their decisions should be respected.
“The players will have their own views on whether they want to be involved in a GB team at the Olympics and whatever their view is should have no impact on their international careers,” said the Northern Ireland boss.
“I can understand players wanting to play in an Olympics and they should not be criticised for that but I also understand the position taken by the Irish FA.
“It is not an issue that I am really involved in as it’s a matter for the associations and they have made their positions clear.”
The London Olympics matches kick off next July — just a month after the Euro 2012 finals in Ukraine and Poland and Worthington says the biggest issue is the willingness of clubs to release their big names for the tournament.
“I think the clubs will not be too keen to release their players,” he added. “That’s the big concern, the fear that one of them might pick up an injury in an Olympics over the summer.”
Worthington is more focused on guiding Northern Ireland to the Euro 2012 Championships next summer than worrying about the make-up of a GB Olympics team.
“It’s not really my job to tell the associations what they should be doing and I haven’t been involved in discussions,” he added.
“But as an international manager I would have no problem with players wanting to be involved.”
Worthington’s claim that clubs will not appreciate losing their players to a GB team in the off-season is shared back at IFA headquarters in Windsor Avenue.
IFA chiefs are fuming after the British Olympic Association said a “historic agreement” had been reached with the Football Association over fielding teams at the 2012 Games.
The Irish, Welsh and Scottish associations feel an agreement would affect their status as independent nations within Fifa and they have angrily professed themselves to be unaware of any deal.
An IFA insider said last night: “It's a shame the FA are keeping this going. We provided the letter mentioned on request and on a strictly confidential basis. And now it has been brought into play. You have to wonder about the agenda?
“In the letter, we accepted that, legally and morally, we could not prevent players taking part, if selected. The point we made was that we were not going to make a fuss or stand in their way but that we could not agree with the approach being taken, given the risks involved for our future autonomous status within the world game.
“The real problem, though, could be with the clubs and not the national associations.
“An Olympic tournament would fall outside designated Fifa international dates, therefore there would be no onus on clubs
to release players. And, of course, there is the added complication of players being involved in the Euro 2012 finals in Ukraine and Poland in the previous month, in June.
“Availability will be a big issue. For whatever reason, the BOA have quite literally jumped the gun on this one.”
Meanwhile, the BOA may cash in on sales of replica Team GB football shirts from the London 2012 Games to solve their financial issues.
The BOA have the rights to two pieces of “iconic” Team GB merchandise under their deal with London 2012 organisers and have confirmed that could include replica shirts of the British football teams.
The deal could be worth millions of pounds to the BOA, who are expected to make a financial loss this year.
BOA communications director Darryl Seibel said: “We have the opportunity to bring two Team GB items to the market in 2012 with all the royalties going to the BOA.
“We have not made a decision as to what the two items will be.
“We have looked at a number and ruled a few out, but we have not made a final decision.”