Belfast Telegraph

IFA right to stand firm and stay away from Olympics

By Steven Beacom

It may be the greatest show on earth, but the Irish Football Association are right to want nothing to do with the Olympics. Be that in Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020 or wherever the Games go after that.

They are also right to stand up to the English FA who are determined that a Great Britain team becomes the norm every four years rather than the exception, as was thought to be the case in London 2012.

Sure, there would be great pride in watching, say, our own Jonny Evans or Steven Davis collect a medal wearing their GB kits but Northern Ireland football has to see the bigger picture here, even if the English FA refuse to.

For over 50 years, at first through an inability to qualify and then for fear of what Fifa might do, Team GB was NOT represented on the football field in the Olympics.

The longer that went on the more it suited Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. It's easy to forget, but back in the 1970s and 80s, some Fifa members wanted the four associations to compete as one in World Cups and European Championships.

In more recent times the home nations have taken care not to have that argument brought up again.

Remember, this is Fifa. Anything can happen. Sepp Blatter has been the President since 1998 for goodness sake!

Then along came London 2012.

Qualifying automatically as hosts and with the UK riding a huge wave of euphoria about the Olympics coming to these shores, the English FA, even though the Irish FA, Scottish FA and Welsh FA were against the idea, decided they fancied putting forward a GB football team to play.

Cynics suggested it was just a ploy to have David Beckham involved as an over-age player. In the end poor old Becks wasn't picked by manager Stuart Pearce. Northern Ireland and Scotland footballers weren't either with the squad made up of 13 Englishmen and five Welsh players, including Ryan Giggs.

Though unhappy with the decision to have a GB team, the IFA, Welsh FA and Scottish FA let Team GB get on with it believing that it was a one off because the Olympics were in London.

Yesterday on Sky Sports, Pearce confirmed that.

If further proof was required former English FA general secretary Alex Horne said after London 2012: "We play as England and we are proud to play as England and I know Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are proud to play as their own individual entities and we wouldn't want to do anything to risk that."

Everyone felt an agreement was in place and that would be the end of it, in the understanding that going down the Team GB route again could open a can of worms about merging the four nations.

Then the English FA moved the goalposts, declaring they wanted to play in the Rio Olympics, as it would help with the development of their young players and to heck with the rest of you.

I've hammered the IFA for mistakes down the years, but this time they were correct to stand up to the English FA and their arrogance at a weekend meeting.

IFA President Jim Shaw and Chief Executive Patrick Nelson (pictured) made it clear that their Olympic stance would not change and that the FA were out of order with this change of heart.

Pearce believes Fifa would not "break the associations down", but that's easy for him to say.

The IFA cannot afford to take the risk. They have to protect Northern Ireland football and in this instance are doing their best on that score.

Of course if chosen for a GB Olympic team, Northern Ireland players don't need permission from the IFA, but they may not be bothered about going to Rio anyway.

After all, two months earlier they'll have been playing in the Euro 2016 finals, a football tournament that actually matters!

Belfast Telegraph

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