Why the UK should have separate Olympic teams

August 26, 2008

Team GB took 311 athletes to the 2008 Olympic Games according to the Team GB website.

Yet the IOC only provides each country a limited number of slots for their athletes.

That meant for instance Hayley Haining couldn’t go to Beijing when Paula Radcliffe declared herself fit.

Now there are always going to be losers in any qualifying system for the limited slot placement in the Olympics.

But separate Olympic teams for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would widen the opportunities for our athletes, and ensure that as many athletes as possible fill each countries slots.

Consider this:

The UK with a population of around 60 million sent 311 athletes.

England’s population of around 50 million is slightly higher than Spain’s 46 million. Spain sent 312 athletes to Beijing. (These and other countries figures obtained from the Yahoo Olympic site.) You’d probably be talking at least the 311 athletes in a English Olympic team. (The Team GB breaks down England by region but subtracting the other countries totals from the 311 Team GB total gives an English total of 268 athletes.)

Scotland’s population is around 5 million. Slightly higher than Croatia’s 4.6 million. Croatia sent 110 athletes to Beijing. Probably the same numbers as a possible Scottish team, although New Zealand with 4.2 million sent 209 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 26 athletes at the 2008 Olympics.)

Wales’ population is around 3 million. Just slightly smaller than Lithuania. They sent 74 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 14 Welsh athletes in the Beijing Olympics.)

Northern Ireland’s population is around 1.8 million. Not far off Slovenia’s 2 million. They sent 62 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 3 athletes, although Northern Irish athletes are also eligible for the Irish Olympic squad.)

Let’s add that up:-

England 311
Scotland 110
Wales 74
Northern Ireland 62

Thats a rough estimate of 557. That’s an increase in athletes for each country from their 2008 totals.

Might even be more if the Home Nations can begin to emulate the New Zealand population density rate. The UK – as four countries – could possibly send about 700 athletes, more than double the present number; a number that would never be possible for the single British Olympic Committee given the UK’s population.

The key here is widening participation in sport for our top athletes.

Athletes that have experience in the Olympics generally do better in the next one. They know what the Olympics is all about, they have seen what it takes to compete at that level, and work that bit harder to achieve their Olympic dreams next time.

Athletes that don’t make the slot places may just give up altogether.

With 4 different Olympic committees, sport all over England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could flourish.

And of course, there’s no reason for the IOC to object to four different IOC bodies in the UK. There were 12 territories represented at the 2008 Olympics that are not recognised countries.

Bermuda has its own representation. Britain own those islands; Bermuda is not independent or have a seat at the UN. Bermuda sent 6 athletes to the Olympics. And for a population of 66 000 people that’s simply staggering.

Thats almost 1 in 10000 people there being Olympic athletes.

Or England sending 5000 athletes to Beijing.


Home Nations Olympic teams in history

August 25, 2008

My previous post described how the 1908 Great Britain Olympic football squad was in fact the English national amateur team.

One other thing of interest in that Olympics was that the Home Nations representated themselves in some sports.

For example, in Hockey there was a English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh side. (This before before the independence of Ireland and the partition of Northern Ireland.)

They competed with France and Germany to get the medals.

England won gold. Ireland won the silver. Scotland and Wales shared the bronze, as there was no 3rd place play-off.

Scotland beating Germany 4-0 at hockey in the 1908 Olympics

England and Ireland representated themselves at Polo.

The IOC rules about countries competing only if they have an IOC committee in place where enforced at these London games.

This was a British ploy to prevent the situation that had happened two years previous in the 1906 Intercalated Olympics – basically a mid term Olympics between 1904 and 1908.

Peter O’Connor, an Irish long jumper, high jumper and triple jumper, was sent to Athens by the GAA and the IAAA, Irish sport authorities. Of course, Ireland at the time was not independent from Britain and hence Peter and other Irish atheletes found themselves listed as representing Britain.

In a controversial long jump competition, Peter came second, but as the Union flag was raised to represent his silver, Peter climbed the flagpole and waved his Irish flag instead.

He later won the gold medal in the triple jump.

That’s why the IOC ruling was enforced in 1908 by the London Olympics, to try and stop any such political statements. However to primarily appease the Irish they allowed the Home Nations to represent themselves at some sports; particularly in those sports where Ireland had a good chance to win a gold medal.

A knock-on effect of this ruling was that Finland – at the time ruled by Russia – was listed as Russian. This was particularly upsetting for the Finns as Russia had not even bothered to send a team.

They decided to have no flag instead.

The official report on the London games stated “it might on another occasion be better to consider separate entries from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales…as well as from both New Zealand and Australia”

Even in the imperial mood of 1908 came the realisation that separate teams were the way forward.

One hundred years later and we’re still having the debate in the UK!

UK Olympic football team

August 24, 2008

There have been UK football olympic teams in the past. Indeed the UK team won gold in the first football tournament in 1908 – the UK also won when football was a demonstration sport in the 1900 Olympics in Paris – although only five countries competed at the time. This UK team however was the England national amateur team. The UK won again in 1912 and again the team entered was the England national amateur team.

London 1908 English amateur national football team at the Olympics

In fact all the subsequent entries of the UK team were amateur teams predominately based on the English national amateur team.

The politics of football is completely different today than it was in the early 20th century with few teams taking part, and even in the early seventies when an English based UK amateur side was competing in the 1972 Olympics.

The UK has not fielded an joint footballing team since 1974 when the English Football Association scrapped the distinction between professional and amateur.

As football has grown around the world, becoming a truly global game, other nations having been looking at the UK and asking why have they four teams representating the UK, each with a vote in FIFA.

So any suggestion of a UK Football Olympic team would only provide weight to their argument and threaten the existence of the Home Nations teams.

That is why it seems that there is a remarkable weight of opinion that the UK should not enter a joint football team in the 2012 Olympic Games:-

Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA:

“If you start to put together a combined team for the Olympic Games, the question will automatically come up that there are four different associations so how can they play in one team.

If this is the case then why the hell do they have four associations and four votes and their own vice-presidency?

This will put into question all the privileges that the British associations were given by the Congress in 1946.”.

Gordon Smith, Scottish Football Association chief executive:

“We don’t want anything to do with a British team and made that clear from very early on.

“I have met Gordon Brown, but our position remains the same. A Team UK would raise questions in terms of our future as an autonomous footballing nation.

“Right now we have our own association, league and national team and that is not something we are willing to compromise.

“I don’t see a change of heart on this. There’s no backing for this from our administration or our supporters.”

Alan Duncan, from the Association of Tartan Army Clubs:

“When is Gordon Brown going to realise that nobody wants a Team UK, a position that could threaten our own independent national side?

“To be honest, nobody up here takes anything that Brown says seriously anymore.

“He has proven time and time again that he is more interested in being English than Scottish. He even admitted to supporting the England team.

“Scotland is focussed on trying to qualify for World Cups and European championships.”

Craig Brown, former Scotland manager:

“In my opinion, it would be axiomatic that such a ‘temporary’ merger could lead to the eventual permanent combination of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales into a single footballing entity in future major tournaments such as the World Cup and European Championships.”

Malcolm Clarke, Football Supporters Federation of Engand:

“The FSF is opposed to a single UK team in the Olympics.

We believe that such a team would be an entirely artificial entity given the existence of separate teams from each of the 4 countries in the UK in all other forms of International football, which is a tradition of very long standing which fans from the 4 countries wish to retain.

We share the fears of fans from the other UK countries that this precedent might be used to challenge the separate existence of those teams in the future, notwithstanding the assurances given by FIFA that this will not happen.”

Philip Smyth, Amalgamation of Official NI Fans Clubs :

“The Amalgamation of Official NISCs is opposed to the concept of a United Kingdom representative team participating in the 2012 Olympic Football Tournament.

We feel that such a move would undoubtedly lead to increased lobbying for an end to the present individual representative status of the four British Associations, a scenario which International fans throughout the Home Nations would be opposed to.”

Paul Corkrey, Football Supporters Federation Cymru :

“The Olympic side has our best wishes but it could mean the death of a country’s football team and the Welsh should not have to pay that price.”

Why then does Gordon Brown seem ‘determined’ to have a UK Olympic football team in the 2012 Olympic Games?

Only the government and the English FA are in favour.

Now it seems the Prime Minister is having talks with Sepp Blatter on the matter.

Is he mad???

Is his Britishness agenda so important that he risks the national teams of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Sepp Blatter has taken the view that if the UK was insistent on entering then:

“They should enter only a team composed of players from England”

That view is probably why the English Football Association itself seems in favour of a UK Football Olympic team.

As in the past, any UK team will be an English team, in all but name.

If Gordon Brown is really serious about a UK Olympic football team, I suggest the Home Nations play off for the right to represent the UK.

A joint team will be the beginning of the end for the Home Nations. The other nations just won’t stand four separate teams in FIFA if a UK team was submitted.

Wouldn’t the best way forward be the Home Nations representating themselves at the Olympics?

That makes much more sense.

Devolution has killed nationalism stone dead

August 8, 2008

So said George Robertson, one time Secretary General of NATO.

Of course he is right.

But not in the way he intended.

Devolution has killed British nationalism stone dead.

It was always going to be the weaker nationalism that would die. And considering Scottish nationalism – and for that matter English and Welsh nationalism – has been around a lot longer than British nationalism, it was always going to be harder to artifically maintain the youngest and weakest.

British nationalism is now in its final swansong. Of course we won’t see many Saltires, English or Welsh flags at the Olympics – as they have been banned – and we’ll only see the Union Flags, but reading into flag waving to surmise that British nationalism is alive and well would be utterly ridiculous.

Nevertheless, I fully expect some commentators to reach that conclusion!!

The English FA fully expect to field a British football team in the 2012 Olympics, even though the Scottish FA, the Welsh FA and the Northern Irish FA have already indicated that they will not let their players be involved.

So the 2012 British team will be the England team.

That illustrates a common attitude in England. Britain = England. Its one of the reasons why British nationalism never really took on in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Which is ironic for Wales especially as the original Britons of these isles were forced back into Wales and southern and central belt Scotland by the Romans, before the Romans finally took all the lands south of Hadrian’s Wall. Apart from a brief upset by Boudicca, the land that is now England folded like a pack of cards.

If Scotland is not independent by 2012 I doubt many Scots – or Welsh or Northern Irish, for that matter – will be supporting an English team purporting to be from the whole of the UK.

Brian Wilson, former Labour Energy minister, yesterday admitted that devolution was constructed to keep out the SNP:-

“The masterplan was for there to be permanent Labour-LibDem coalition at Holyrood. This cosy strategy reflected the warm personal relationships between Labour and LibDem grandees of the time – Donald Dewar and Gordon Brown, Jim Wallace and Menzies Campbell. A Byzantine electoral system was created which would ensure that the Nationalists would remain in the minority.”

But his comments were strangely not – as a fervent anti-nationalist – related to trying to resussitate the dying Union, but of trying to resussitate the dying Labour Party.

No doubt he would argue that keeping Labour alive is vital to keeping the Union alive, as if Britain would die if there was no Labour Party; somehow both vitally joined together like empathic twins on life support.

Yet there’s no doubt which twin he wants to save with his donor card.

The Labour Party.

And isn’t that one of Labour’s biggest problems? The self interest of the party machine comes before country.

And it isn’t any better at Holyrood for Labour.

They will never stand up for Scotland like the SNP can.

They will always have to look down to Westminster first before making a decision.

Recently there were reports that Jack McConnell as First Minister had to phone up Downing St to ask if the agreed policy decisions of the Labour and Liberal Democrat Executive were OK by Westminster.

The SNP always put Scotland’s interests first. Every time.

Obviously that rankles Brian Wilson:

“Whether devolution was good for Scotland is a matter for debate. But it is indisputedly a disaster for the Labour Party.” and also concedes “that devolution is now irreversible”

Never mind, Brian.

You never know, Labour prospects might just improve after independence!

The union has no chance.

Home nations flags banned at Olympics

August 5, 2008

So it seems that fans won’t be able to fly the saltire at the Olympic Games in China.

This is the relevant ruling on the Chinese Olympic website:

“2. To avoid delays at security and to maintain an orderly flow, please DO NOT bring the following articles to any venue:… flags of non-members of the Olympics or Paralympics; flags or banners larger than 2 m x 1 m; flagpoles; any banners, slogans, fliers, brochures or samples.”

As Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland combine into one team, only the Union flag will be allowed into the games.

Obviously this is a Chinese attempt to stop any Tibetan flags flying at the games, but it impinges on the Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish fans rights to support their own separate nationalities.

The Tibetan flag

Obviously the Chinese are sensitive about the Tibetan situation and their human rights record, but should the British Olympic Association be enforcing this rule too, in relation to the Home Nations flags?

It wasn’t so long ago that skier Alain Baxter was banned from wearing his saltire haircut. Will they ban Andy Murray’s trademark saltire wristbands too?

The Scottish Parliament has a good record of protest on China’s human rights and Tibet.

It has a Tibetan rights group that has cross party support, convened by Liberal Democrat Mike Pringle.

Jack McConnell, as First Minister, raised questions over China’s poor human rights record on his 2004 visit.

The Dalai Lama visited Scotland in 2005 as part of a World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet.

Mike Pringle as convenor of the Tibet group put forward a motion in the Scottish Parliament deploring China’s actions:

That the Parliament deplores the Chinese Government’s violent suppression of recent democratic protests by the people of Tibet, which has been controlled by the Chinese Government since a military assault in 1950; commends calls by the Dalai Lama for an international fact-finding mission to be sent to Tibet to investigate the causes of the protests and the actual situation in Tibet under Chinese rule, and reminds China, as host of the 2008 Olympic Games, that it should look to improve human rights and religious freedom in Tibet.

This had cross party support from the majority of backbenchers in the Scottish Parliament.

And when Fiona Hyslop went to China in April this year – a trip supported by the Dalai Lama – promoting Aberdeen University as Education Secretary she wasted no time in letting China know how Scotland feels about its human rights violations.

“Fiona Hyslop did take the first opportunity she had on the first day of her visit to China to raise the Scottish Government’s concerns about human-rights issues in discussion with China’s vice minister of education.”

The Scottish stance is supported by Amnesty International’s Scottish programme director, John Watson. He believes “engagement can provide the opportunity to push for exchange”.

I believe the Scottish Parliament is taking a much firmer stance on this issue than Westminster.

The saltire ban did make me think of fifth columnist George Foulkes again, who recently got hot under the collar about the new train logos.

In 1990 as a Labour backbencher he is quoted in Hansard:

“Whatever one’s view of Tibetan autonomy claims, and there may be differing views in the House, there can be no excuse for such repression and brutality.”

Possibly pro-Tibet there, I think.

But later as Overseas Development Minister in 1997 he pretty much backed the Government’s fudged position as to not offend China:

“We believe that we can best assist the people of Tibet through small-scale projects that respond directly to the needs of local communities.”

though he eventually gave this response after questioning:

“The Government are concerned about human rights in the whole of China, including Tibet, and we shall continue to raise our concerns directly with the Government of China, both bilaterally and in international forums.”

When George was Overseas Development Minister it seemed a bit more softly, softly to me.

I guess at best Lord Foulkes position on Tibet is unclear. Certainly he was one of the few backbenchers not to support the Tibet motion in the Scottish Parliament.

As a former Overseas Development Minister at Westminster his name was conspicious by its absence.

Maybe George will be delighted that the saltire will be banned at the Olympics?

Here's a Scottish saltire, George!

In which case, does he similarly support the banning of Tibetan flags?

While I was writing this, I stumbled across this blog which puts the Tibet issue from the Chinese viewpoint:

“Promoting independence of Tibet from China is infringing China’s sovereignty. Tibet is part of China, just like Scotland is part of United Kingdom. If China started supporting the Scottish Separatist movement, I am sure UK will be really unhappy too.

Separatist movement are not well tolerated throughout history, just look at Easter Rising (1916) in Ireland, many civilians were killed, 15 separatist leaders were executed, 3000 political prisoners were put behind bars by the British. Unfortunately, the reality is suppression of separatist movements are equally harsh all over the world.”

There are a few things I could say on this, but the crucial one is the UK is a democracy and Scottish people can vote for independence parties if they want too. The SNP are in Government in Scotland, for instance, and the public await the promised Independence Referendum in 2010.

I don’t see the same freedoms applied to China and the Tibetan people.

Flying our flags is a bare minimum of our freedoms.

Andy Murray

July 5, 2008

Andy Murray has been subject to a lot of anti-Scots prejudice by the English recently.

Why? They claim its because he made a flippant comment about not supporting England in the last world cup in 2006.

OK lets go with that for a bit. Why should Andy Murray support England at football? Each UK nation represents itself – in the eyes of FIFA at least the countries are independent.

We may live in a faltering political construct called the UK, but the reality is that the Welsh, English and Scottish are all different. The Northern Irish are also different and don’t even share the same island!

It may be neighbourly to support England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland but nothing more.

There are plenty of neighbours you can cite that don’t support each other national football teams. The Dutch and Germans. Turkey and Greece.

Domestically, its even more apparent. Rangers and Celtic. Hearts and Hibs. Dundee and Dundee United. In England:- Manchester City and Manchester United. Chelsea and Arsenal.

All neighbours that don’t get on.

Now I’m not saying that its right, but its at least understandable.

Similarly, I don’t expect England to support Andy Murray. He’s not English, so why should they?

Andy Murray with saltire

What I do object to is the sort of views that Tony Parsons recently made known about Andy Murray. Murray as “the tip of a toxic iceberg of anti-Englishness” and “I believe Andy Murray is one of those characters who genuinely dislike England and the English”.

I don’t know Andy Murray. I do know from the papers he has an English girlfriend and has a flat in Wandsworth. Not signs of anti-English mentality.

If the English don’t want to support Andy Murray that’s fine – he’s not English. I just wish they wouldn’t justify it by saying he’s anti-English and writing prejudical nonsense about the Scots.

Another slant on this is the Britishness angle.

The attitude here is exemplified by a quote in The Herald:-

“A tabloid reporter was heard to murmur this week in the SW19 media scrum that what Wimbledon needed was a True Brit. He was immediately upbraided by a Scot: ‘But Andy Murray is a Brit.’

“The reply was an almost apologetic ‘well, you know what I mean’. What he meant was that a large constituency of the media and spectators crave an English presence in the style of Henman. This may be understandable, even forgivable. But Scotland does not have to agree with this skewed view.”

This skewed view equates Britishness with England.

That’s probably one of the reasons why the most Scots are loathe to be called British, or if they are its Scottish first, then British. Only a minority describe themselves as British before Scottish, and only a handful of Scots call themselves British only.

Now I can only speculate why the English equate Britishness with themselves.

It may be because they are by far the larger partner in this island.

It may link to an imperial past. Is Scotland just another colony?

But speaking as a Scot, Britishness is just a geographical term describing a native of this island. To me, the Northern Irish are not British, although they are very much a part of the UK. I think that’s why the British epithet is less used in Scotland – its not necessarily viewed as a nationality.

I think I would be helpful if the English started feeling English more. Perhaps this recent anti-Scottish diatribe is just the English starting to do just that. Hopefully such feelings will pass. Ending the asymmetric devolution process and giving English votes on English matters will help the process. An English Parliament is the most logical outcome of this.

England should take back the St. George’s Cross from the racists. The English should celebrate being English.

That’s my tuppence worth, from a Scot.

And wouldn’t independence just sort all this out nicely?!!

Dual Mandate Band-Aid

June 26, 2008

Yet another Conservative idea to answer the West Lothian question. This time it comes from John Redwood, MP for Wokingham, and former Secretary of State for Wales.

Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own parliaments. Similar to Mark Field’s model the English parliament would be Westminster.

All MPs elected to their national parliaments are dual-mandate MPs – they sit both in their own parliament e.g. Holyrood and in Westminster. Thus, Westminster holds both the English parliament and the UK parliament.

An MSP would also be a UK MP etc.

The UK parliament decides those non-devolved matters not covered by the national parliaments.

It would then be up to the elected English MPs to decide on which office holders they wanted for the UK parliament.

For me, this is another sticking plaster solution. A Dual Mandate Band-Aid.

It may save costs on the English side without having to build a separate English parliament, but I think the English may just view it as Westminster and demand a separate parliament anyway.

And what of the numbers of MSPs and AMs going to Westminster?

There are currently 129 MSPs. The Scottish Parliament needs about that number to function effectively – As there is no second chamber, most of the actual detailing of bills is done by committees made up of all of these MSPs. If the Scottish Parliament had to survive on 59 MPs based on the Westminster model it couldn’t cope.

Given that the Scottish people voted for such a model based on Proportional Representation, I don’t think any external reduction of our MSPs number would be favourable to the Scottish public. Nor constitutional without a referendum. A referendum that Mr. Redwood would lose handsomely.

I expect that would also apply to Wales and Northern Ireland.

In short this Dual Mandate Band-Aid would be unworkable in practice.

A sticking plaster won’t work twice.