Lord Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association, told a packed Sports Journalists’ Association lunch in London yesterday that he was determined and certain that Britain would field two football teams at the 2012 Olympic Games, and that he backed Lord Coe’s choice of Sir Alex Ferguson to manage at least the men’s squad.
Britain qualifed both a men’s under-23 team – thanks to England’s performance in the European under-21s last year – and women’s football team for the 2008 Games which begin in Beijing next month. But because, principally, the Scottish FA would not agree to participate in the tournament despite assurances that they would not lose their separate status at world and European level, Premiership players such as Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and Craig Gordon have been denied the chance to compete at the Olympic Games.
The vital importance of football to the London Olympics was spelled out by Lord Moynihan when he told the SJA lunch: “The impact of a British team on the public and their support of the Games will be enormous.
“We would also expect that team to be a strong medal contender and thereby generate tremendous excitement throughout the country. We must have a team in these Games and we will have a team.”
Despite the efforts of Moynihan’s predecssor as BOA chairman, Scotsman Sir Craig Reedie, and an undertaking from FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the Scots have led the Welsh and Northern Irish in refusing to co-operate, fearful that the four UK bodies will be stripped of their individual voting power by FIFA and consequently reduced to entering one combined British team in World Cups.
Now the clear implication from Moynihan is that, if the other home Football Associations prevent their players taking part, 11 Englishmen will represent Britain at the London Games in 2012, where the opening game in the football tournament is due to be staged at Hampden Park. Given the continuing celtic defiance, there is a strong likelihood that a lone Scot would pick that team of Anglos.
Moynihan said: “We would want the most highly-qualified man for that job so obviously I would support Fergie as well as considering, of course, any English manager the FA might put forward who had comparable credentials.
“The England ladies are strong at the moment and, given the odd Scot coming through, I am sure they would have been strong medal contenders in Beijing. We will have both teams come 2012.”
Britain won the football gold in Paris 1900, London 1908 and Stockholm 1912. They last entered the Olympics in 1972, still adhering to the-then principle of an amateur team even though almost every other nation responded to the rule change admitting young professionals. As a consequence, they were knocked out by Bulgaria in the qualifying rounds and have not taken part since.
Encouraged by last week’s verdict in the High Court against Dwain Chambers that upheld the BOA’s lifetime ban on drugs cheats, Moynihan is urging other countries and the IOC to adopt the controversial bye law.
He also continued his campaign for the wider use of blood testing rather than urine samples to catch drug users.
He said: “We still have a long way to go, but I want to see competition between athletes, not between chemical laboratories.”
Moynihan did, however, agree that the BOA bye law, and his organisation’s appeal procedure, needed constant review. The BOA has granted 28 out of the last 31 appeals against the bye law.
Lord Moynihan insisted the BOA’s stance in the Chambers case had already given a strong message to future competitors.
“Last week was a step in the right direction for this country and for the BOA.
“The bye law is consistently under review but if anybody thinks I have had members of the International Olympic Committee ringing me saying we should move away from the eligibility bye laws, that absolutely hasn’t happened.
“If anything, it has reinforced the minds of the athletes and the IOC that the lifetime ban is proportionate, as the judge found.
“Nobody should be under any illusion that the Olympic Games should go one step further than any other international sporting event.
“So sending out a signal to young people is part of the selection criteria. It is not likely we will move away from the lifetime ban.
“I hope that one of the lessons that came out of last week was that the consequence of taking drugs is that you will not be a member of Team GB in 2012 or any future Games.
“So should there have been individuals considering it, they would have received a very clear lesson last week – and that is forget it.”
Moynihan cited comments made by Scottish cyclist David Millar, who has previously been banned for using EPO, following the Chambers case.
He said: “It was interesting listening to David Millar, who said that the world is moving from a culture where drug-taking was commonplace and close to the norm to a world where it is absolutely rejected.
“In effect, what we are seeing is a recognition that if you take drugs to enhance performance in the Olympic movement in this country then you are out.
“That will act as a strong deterrent to anybody weighing up the consequences, which will be terminal.”
Lord Moynihan (pictured left receiving an original Kevin Macey cartoon from SJA chairman Barry Newcombe), who won silver in the 1980 Moscow Games as the cox in the rowing eights, declined to predict how successful British competitors would be in Beijing and in London in four years’ time.
UK Sport has already declared it wants 35 medals next month, including a double-figure gold haul, which would see Britain finish eighth.
Lord Moynihan admitted the 2012 target was a fourth-place finish but added a note of caution.
He said: “One should be very sensitive about the prediction game and the reason why is because when I look back at Athens and the five gold medals we had, if you took all of the times and worked out the difference between the five silvers, it added up to 0.545 of one second.
“Then you realise it is a big ask to call a position on a medal table when that difference would have meant the difference between 10th and 17th.
“So if anyone is able to crystal-ball gaze to that accuracy I will come with them to Ladbrokes after lunch.”
Photographs copyright SJA, by Steve Rowe
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