England’s Lionesses face the sternest test of their Women’s World Cup campaign when they meet the USA in Lyon. But it is Team GB’s off-field qualification for the Olympic Games that poses problems for England and Wales, says Twm Owen.
Team GB last week qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics women’s football tournament, which is a bit odd as the team hasn’t played in seven years.
Britain’s best footballers last played together as a Great Britain team during the London 2012 Games and the men’s team, which featured current Wales men’s boss Ryan Giggs, was supposed to be a one-off for the home Olympics.
But with England one of the last three remaining European sides at the current Women’s World Cup in France their performance has earned an Olympic Games qualifying spot. And if you can’t see why that is a problem then you surely aren’t someone who pays much attention to detail.
The first problem is that England doesn’t have a national Olympic association – and having one would probably be a waste of time. England, just like Wales, Northern Ireland, and for now at least, Scotland, is unlikely to be eligible for International Olympic Committee recognition.
If you aren’t overly familiar with which countries can and can’t take part in the Olympics then you might like to look at how the Lionesses have achieved qualification through the World Cup.
First they reached the finals by pipping Wales to top their qualifying group and once in France started their campaign on the opening weekend by beating Scotland.
We shouldn’t be surprised if other countries then find it suspicious one of these teams takes one of only three prized European qualifying spots at the Olympic Games – and will then apparently invite some of their defeated foes to join them at the party.
Any international coach who has scouted England and thought they would be a really dangerous side if they had a Jess Fishlock would understandably be very aggrieved to arrive in Japan and find the Lionesses do indeed have the Jess Fishlock at their disposal so long as they call themselves Team GB.
Wales’ 100+ caps star Fishlock, who is currently based in the United States with her Seattle Reign club, found herself taken aback by the American reaction to the relationship between England and Scotland.
Hours before the two nations British people instantly recognise as old enemies were due to face each other in their opening group game Fishlock tweeted her frustrations at US network Fox’s coverage.
Along with a reference to a how the absence of the world’s best player, Norwegian Ada Hegerberg, had been reported Fishlock couldn’t help but laugh at the stations take. She tweeted: “Fox Sports WWC coverage is honestly cracking me up HARD. Firstly – they have a slanging match against Ada yesterday without ANY facts or any respect. #NotCool Secondly – they have a promo saying Scotland WNT will want England to EXCEL at the WC, for Team GB reasons. OMG.”
Fishlock even felt the need to add a laughing tears emoji. But while a comment that Scotland would want England to win is laughable to people within the British Isles it seems working together for the good of Team GB, or to further advance women’s football in Britain, makes sense to the countries that could ultimately decide the fate of the home nations.
A failure to take international opinion into account has already caused Britain problems on the global political stage and Team GB could mean a loss of control for the home nations.
Perceptions matter in international football. Any member nation can table an agenda item at a meeting of world football’s governing body FIFA and if a majority of its more than 200 members agree Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and, yes, England, who all basically compete internationally under grandfather rights, could find that comes to an end.
In 1972 a bid by the Uruguay FA to end the independence of the home nations was only withdrawn when the four UK associations agreed to pay a levy from the home championship games to FIFA. It was a decision which brought them into line with a requirement on all other nations.
Though the football associations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland aren’t enthusiastic about Team GB the English FA are more than keen. England women’s manager Phil Neville has already appointed himself, and his back room team, to the management positions.
But it is England that has the least to lose. The English FA, as the biggest in financial terms, would be poised to transform itself into the British FA – or as they currently like to be known, the FA.
Whatever the name of the association and the team on paper it would just as often be referred to as England.
Those 2012 Olympic teams always threatened to be an infectious sore and the recent success of the England women’s team has turned it sceptic.
The British Olympic Association (BOA) and the English FA have arrogantly pushed the Team GB agenda but the, No Team GB push back against a British team embraced by Wales fans is a campaign all Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish fans, and yes, England supporters should get behind.
England’s quarter-final victory over Norway, and France’s defeat to the USA, has secured the Olympic spot.
Friendly rivalry aside it shouldn’t matter to Welsh fans whether the United States or England triumph in Tuesday’s semi-final but Mr Neville and the blazers at the FA and in the BOA surely need taking down a peg.
Fishlock’s Seattle teammate Megan Rapinoe has found herself at odds with loudmouth US President Donald Trump already during the course of tournament while scoring the goals to show she is as much as a match on the field as she is an off the field activist.
The winger, and tournament joint top scorer, has already put President Trump back in his box. A performance on Tuesday to force a little humility on Manchester United legend Gary Neville’s younger brother and his bosses at the FA should be welcomed across the UK.