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Irish FA are left fuming over Team GB Rio Olympics bid

By Steven Beacom

Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson has hit out at the English FA for moving the goalposts regarding a Team GB football squad playing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The powers that be at Windsor Avenue are fuming that this controversial issue has come up again, believing it had been put to bed at the London 2012 Games.

Back then, Team GB were represented on the football field at the Olympics for the first time since 1960, with men's and women's squads both involved.

The IFA, as they are now, were against the idea and aired their views on the subject, but were led to believe it would only be a one off given that the Olympics were being staged in London.

Now, though, there is much dismay because the English FA have once again put forward a plan to the British Olympic Association for teams to represent GB in Rio next year.

The IFA are vehemently opposed to a GB team, insisting that having the four home nations - Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales - play under one banner sets a dangerous precedent which could lead to some Fifa members thinking about making it a permanent measure for all competitions, including the World Cup and European Championships.

In the past there were serious concerns about such a development. The IFA want to make sure what would be a nightmare scenario for the Northern Ireland team never occurs in the future. It is a risk they are not prepared to take.

Chief Executive Nelson told the Belfast Telegraph: "A Great Britain Olympic team is not something we would want.

"Our position hasn't changed. We feel the supporters of the four British Associations want them to play as four countries. We believe the four British Associations should play under their own badge, with their own shirt, with their own players and for their own fans.

"We were reluctant to support the plan for London 2012 and effectively stood by and watched a team representing Great Britain on the understanding that it was a one off."

The GB Olympic team was discussed by the four home associations at the weekend when the annual general meeting of the International Football Association Board took place at the Culloden hotel in Belfast.

The IFA and their Welsh counterparts made it clear to the English FA how they felt in a frank exchange.

When asked about that conversation, Nelson said: "Yes, we had a meeting of the four British Associations. I'll not go through the detail of it but we reiterated our position on the subject.

"There is more debate to be had because this process is in the early stages, but everyone has been made well aware we won't be changing our stance on this."

Pointedly, he added: "It was our understanding that the team for the London Olympics was a one off. We didn't pick up that understanding out of nowhere. That was what the FA's position was on this before."

Unlike in London when they were the hosts, a GB team would have to qualify for the Rio Olympics by showing their worth at upcoming summer tournaments. The English under-21 side must reach the last four of the European Championships for the men to qualify, while the women have to be amongst the top three European teams at the World Cup. Clearance would also be required from Fifa.

At the Olympics, squads are made up of under-23 players and three over-aged players, one of which in 2012 was Welshman Ryan Giggs, who captained the side.

In the run up to the London Games, there was great debate about whether any Northern Ireland players, against IFA wishes, would be included in Stuart Pearce's panel, but in the end only players from England and Wales featured in the men's team and English and Scottish players turned out for the women's team.

Whether the coaches of the two GB Olympic football sides, should they qualify, approach Northern Ireland players for Brazil remains to be seen.

Nelson said: "That is a hypothetical situation. I don't want to get into a debate about the players. The issue here is that we believe Northern Ireland and our players are here to play under the banner of Northern Ireland."

Before the greatest show on earth takes place next year in Rio, there is every chance the Northern Ireland side will be at the 2016 European Championship finals in France.

Michael O'Neill's men are back in action on March 25 in a friendly in Scotland before resuming their Euro campaign four days later at home to Finland, well placed to qualify, lying second in Group F after four games.

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