Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland football chiefs to ponder GB Olympic side

By Paul Ferguson

Irish Football Association chiefs plan to hold a meeting to seriously digest the comments made by Gianni Infantino after the Fifa President appeared to open a pathway for the formation of an all-UK football side at the Olympic Games.

The governing body of Northern Ireland football, along with their counterparts in Scotland and Wales, have continually held the firm stance that they reject the idea of a united Team GB&NI side in an effort to protect the identity and status of each national association with world football.

After an enforced absence of 52 years, all three Associations relented in 2012, to join forces with the Football Association for the London Olympics, but only after being given special assurances, and this was seen as a one-off.

But Infantino, who was a guest of the IFA at the Northern Ireland v San Marino World Cup qualifying game on Saturday night after officially opening the new-look Windsor Park, insists he would support an all-UK side at the Olympics and that all three Associations would not be placing their status in jeopardy by agreeing to such a team.

He said: "My view is certainly that I don't see this as being an issue.

"I see things in a much more pragmatic way in general.

“The Olympics are such that there has to be one team from the UK, so if we can find a football solution which allows a football team from the UK — and if they qualify to play – then this would certainly not jeopardise in any way whatsoever 130, 140, 150 years of history of the four home nations. That’s not an issue.”

Infantino, who was voted into power last February to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter, received support from the Irish FA, Scottish FA and Football Association of Wales in his candidacy.

He is a known friend of each association, but it’s unsure whether his comments will have any impact on a future GB&NI team at the Olympics. Infantino would like talks to start immediately on the agreement of an all-UK side so that a team could try and qualify for Tokyo in 2020.

The most powerful man in world football states: “It’s up for them to agree.

“They speak the same language so they should see how they can best agree to do something like that.”

The Irish FA plans to hold talks on the subject, but with Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson and new Irish FA president David Martin both in Hannover for tomorrow night’s World Cup qualifying match with Germany, any formal discussions regarding Infantino’s comments will not take place until they return to Belfast on Wednesday.

An Irish FA spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph: “We have read with interest the comments from Fifa president Gianni Infantino concerning one football team from the UK participating at the Olympic Games.

“We will be meeting to discuss his comments further.”

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