For some observers, the Confederations Cup may have a hokey, inauthentic feel — hey, let’s jam a competition into an otherwise quiet summer, fill it with authorized vendor zones, official beer, Sepp Blatter and generally low-stakes soccer — but to view it so cynically means to ignore its charm. It’s short; it’s somewhat inclusive of small, easy-to-love minnows (c’mon, Tahiti!), it’s relaxed and it’s a good chance to see a handful of bigger teams measure themselves on the road to the World Cup.
Started in 1992 as the King Fahd Cup (the first two tournaments were run by the Saudi Arabian FA as a good way to get some top-class opponents to face the national team) and taken over by FIFA since 1997, it has provided some memorable moments, particularly if you’re a U.S. fan.
To put it simply, the tournament may lack some star power but it’s never short of intrigue. With that in mind, let’s predict how the groups might play out.
What the hell is the Confederations Cup?
For almost two years now, I’ve been trying to get my head around soccer. I’m making some progress. I can get invested in international tournaments, and I’m making slow progress watching club-level soccer (not yet having picked a Premier League team is the major obstacle).
[Sidebar: if MLS wants a bigger audience, it’s going to need to have more games on non-subscription channels. I have an extended sports package and still can barely watch one MLS game a week. I could watch more games of Major League Lacrosse than MLS. That’s a problem.]
I’m still struggling to figure out the plan behind what still looks like running and kicking a ball to me. I understand when a goal kick is given versus a corner kick. I understand most of the referee’s hand signals. But I can’t tell the difference between a clean tackle and a foul-inducing one. I know off-ball movement is important, but I can’t really tell why certain people move to certain places. In other words, the strategy behind the running and kicking remains very obtuse to me. But at one point, so did the ball hitting in tennis and the vagaries of the new figure skating judging system; I’ll figure it out eventually.
But I’ve never been able to get my head around the myriad ancillary tournaments. Why does the FA Cup exist alongside the basic Premier League competition? Am I supposed to pay attention to the Europa League? Today another one of these seeming sideshows starts: the Confederations Cup. Here’s how ESPN columnist Roger Bennett describes it:
The Confederations Cup (June 15-30) is the ritual eight-team dry run designed to give the World Cup hosts the chance to iron out any kinks in their stadia and transport systems a year before the big show begins.
Yeah, that makes me real excited. That’s why we watch sports, to identify infrastructure deficiencies. Only after this logistics reminder does Bennett tell us about the event itself.
The tournament pitches the hosts, reigning World Cup holders and six confederation champions (with Italy qualifying as Euro runners-up to World Cup holders Spain) into battle.
I’m not really criticizing Bennett’s journalistic priorities. But it’s hard to see why we should be watching a tournament created to test Brazil’s highway system. More from Bennett:
This is a competition best understood as the opportunity to see a movie’s prequel a year before the blockbuster on which it is based is even released. The 15 days promise to be stuffed full of foreshadowing and subtle backstory-ing.
Though transport and telecommunications networks may still remain unreliable, in-stadia, early ticket sales indicate this should be the most popular Confederations Cup of all time. The passion of Brazilian soccer fans packed into refurbished stadia including Rio’s legendary Maracana should be contagious.
That sounds better. But still: what is the point of all of this? I’ll be watching, but is this a prize that matters? Does it matter to the players themselves? Because if not, why should we care?
On another note, Tahiti, a team made up of teachers and office workers, is the representative of the Oceania Confederation. How cool is that? One week you’re teaching high school science, the next you’re playing Spain in an international tournament.
Oceania Confederation representatives, tiny Tahiti, will hope to provide the tournament’s Bad News Bears moments. Ranked 138th in the world, the Warriors of Steel have only one full-time professional on their squad and will send out a team consisting of salesmen, office workers and school teachers to face Africa Cup of Nations champions Nigeria, World Cup and Euro winners Spain and Copa America holders Uruguay.
Coach Eddy Etaeta harbors no illusions about the magnitude of the task that awaits his team, telling me, “Our wildest dream as a team is to score a goal.
FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, approved a package of reforms meant to address the racism and abuse that permeates international soccer and returned to focus when Kevin Prince Boateng, a Ghanaian midfielder for Italian club AC Milan, walked off the pitch after fans showered him with racial taunts in a friendly match this year. Fans have also targeted Boateng’s teammate, Milan striker Mario Balotelli, and it seems not a month goes by without news of another racial incident at a soccer match somewhere in the world.
FIFA’s efforts face significant challenges, though, and one of them may be that the most common racism isn’t at matches in top-tier leagues like Italy’s Serie A, where Milan plays, or in major international matches.
The question facing FIFA and its continental and domestic federations is whether it can or will apply the same scrutiny to soccer’s lower leagues, which exist as an afterthought for most soccer fans, regulators, and media. Will racism that occurs on the dusty fields and in the empty “stadiums” that play host to those matches be noticed, monitored, and punished the same way it will be at matches that occur in the international spotlight and spark ugly headlines across the world?
Remember Stadiums of Hate, last summer’s BBC Panorama program that informed viewers of the virulent and unchecked racism prevalent in the Polish and Ukrainian stadiums that would host the upcoming European Championships? That documentary—and the crucial issues surrounding it—was in large part a galvanizing reason why I created this tumblr. From one of my early posts:
Reporter Chris Rogers traveled to host countries Poland and Ukraine to observe fan behavior in soccer matches. The images, especially those in Ukraine, were disturbing. Large fan sections in Polish stadiums were chanting anti-semitic jeers as standard fare and made monkey noises at black players. The Ukraine footage showed—with the journalist himself in the frame, which eliminates the possibility that this was old stock footage—hundreds, if not thousands, of fans raising their arms in Nazi salutes and, in the worst scene, a pack of fans abandon the fight they were in with opposing fans and run across several sections of the stadium to attack a group of South Asian students. The students, who were cheering for the same team as their attackers, were beaten, kicked, dragged up and pushed down the stairs. It took an excruciatingly long time for stadium authorities to arrive on the scene and, even then, all they could do was try to move the students out. Other footage shows riot police pinned against plexiglass by rioting fans, so it’s not clear how effective authorities would be anyway.
During the program, we see former England captain Sol Campbell watching the footage and commenting on it. In fact, the program unwisely treats him as an authority on the subject. Nevertheless, he strongly urged fans to stay at home, lest they end up dead. (His exact words: “you could end up coming back in a coffin.”) The British Foreign Office has warned fans of Afro-Caribbean and South Asian descent to take special caution. The families of two young England players, including 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is playing in his first major soccer tournament (and whose father himself played for England), aren’t going.
Although there were several incidents of black players being jeered by opposing team fans (again, well documented here), we did not see the kind of ghastly spectacles anticipated by Stadiums of Hate. One of the theories going into the tournament was that the worst racist offenders are partisans of their local clubs; they wouldn’t be interested in the international competition.
A year on, and Waldron’s comments, which draw on Wright Thompson’s reporting for ESPN about racist ultras in Italy—add weight to that theory. While incidents against Balotelli or Boateng get a lot of attention, it’s the lower club levels where the majority of the abuse occurs. It’s also the lower levels that might be the hardest to regulate. And it’s likely that if we see a significant decrease in racism incidents at the international level, it may not be an accurate reflection of a wider spread eradication.
Still, the Champions League anthem — officially titled “Champions League” but known to many as that song that is always on during important European soccer television broadcasts — will be played at a final for the 21st time this weekend. Two decades after its introduction, it remains one of the best-known sports songs in the world.
So although there will be plenty of stars on the field at Wembley Stadium on Saturday — top players like Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Robert Lewandowski — for the millions of fans watching around the world, the most recognizable feature of the match between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund may be the music.
The song is undeniably connected with the Champions League (Thompson said one study by his company showed that 98 percent of Europeans surveyed could identify the anthem), and from the standpoint of providing gravity to the Champions League games, the song appears to arouse from players, coaches and fans a general sentiment of respect and appreciation.
Unlike songs used mainly for television broadcasts — like Leo Arnaud’s “Bugler’s Dream,” the familiar Olympic song used by ABC and NBC — the Champions League anthem is played in the stadium just before each match. Players can often be seen with wide eyes or shaking shoulders during the anthem as they nervously anticipate the start of the game. Gianluigi Buffon, an Italian goalkeeper, once acknowledged that when Juventus spent two seasons out of the Champions League, the anthem was part of what he missed.
“I used to hear it from my sofa,” he said in September. “I used to think it wasn’t fair.”
Britten, too, has enjoyed hearing the anthem on the field before matches, and he has conducted live versions of it on occasion, including a memorable day at the San Siro stadium in Milan for the 2001 final, when he led the famed La Scala opera house choir.
Johnson is a self-admitted soccer novice — “I didn’t know a 4-4-2 from a 747 when I started this,” he said — so creating the boards has become a critical part of his preparation. He began digging through the markers, searching for a few other colors. As he did, he fell into what has become his way to pass the time this week: rattling off the names of the players, drawing out their pronunciations in an attempt to train his tongue.
“Ilya GOON-de-wahn. GOON-de-wahn. GOON-de-wahn,” he said, referring to Ilkay Gündogan, a Dortmund midfielder. He kept going. “Schweinsteiger. Le-van-doski. Subotic. Subotic. Subotic. Schmelzer. Schmelzer. Schmelzer. Santana. That’s easy.”
He hesitated. “PEEZ-check. PEEZ-check. Blaszczykowski. Yup, that’s going to be the tough one,” he said. “That and Grosskreutz.”
There is an element of loneliness to Johnson’s new job. When he was doing the N.C.A.A. tournament, if he sat in a coffee shop in Louisville or Kansas City, fans would come up to him and shout one of his catchphrases like “Rise and fire!” or “I get buckets!” Johnson loved it.
In Europe, though, he works in relative anonymity. He has been recognized just once, he said — “We were in Manchester and there were some Man United fans who were visiting from America, and they said, ‘Hi, Gus!’ ” — but otherwise he receives little feedback from the public, save for the reviews of his performances, many of which have been scathing and can be found on the Internet. (One Web site, EPLTalk.com, noted that 69 percent of tweets about Johnson’s performance on a Barcelona-Bayern Munich game were negative.)
Like many American journalists and broadcasters, Johnson quickly realized that working conditions in Europe are far different from those in the United States. Climate-controlled press boxes with midfield views are rare; at Camp Nou, Barcelona’s stadium, Johnson and other commentators were essentially on the roof, and a large speaker next to Johnson partly obscured his view.
GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — The resurgence of German soccer began, like the country’s economic comeback, after a long slide toward stagnation amid dire prophecies of impending irrelevance.
The sick man of Europe, as Germany was known a decade ago, could as easily have been called the sick man of soccer. After a disastrous European Championships in 2000 when the traditional powerhouse won no games and scored one goal, the problem-solving, build-a-better-widget German drive kicked in.
While the government was loosening German labor laws to grease the creaking gears of the country’s economy, a society known for its apprenticeships and vocational training set about methodically developing young talent in the world’s most popular sport.
In a little more than a decade, Germany has invested nearly $1 billion in its youth programs, with academies run by professional teams and training centers overseen by the national soccer association, the Deutscher Fussball Bund, or D.F.B. The programs testify to the long-term strategic thinking and to the considerable resources that have driven Germany’s rise to renewed prominence in — and at the expense of — a struggling continent.
THE OLD stereotype of the stupid footballer may have to be consigned to history after a new study claimed that players have better cognitive skills than undergraduates and even PhD students.
Research by Canadian academic Jocelyn Faubert, of the University of Montreal, found that sports stars were able to ‘hyper-focus’ when doing tests, thanks to physical differences in their brains.
However, some people appear to have got carried away by the findings. ‘John Terry is brainier than physics super-boffin Professor Stephen Hawking, exclaimed The Daily Star.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Altidore said he decided to play through the abuse Tuesday because he didn’t want to give satisfaction to people who directed monkey chants at him.
The 23-year-old said it was the first time he has experienced racism like this, on or off the field.
'This was pretty big. To have a stadium chanting monkey sounds is not something pleasant,' he said in the phone interview. 'I'm the only black player on my team, so I think it was more directed to me than anyone else.'
Jackie Robinson’s birthday was Thursday. Two days before the first black player in Major League Baseball would have turned 94, American soccer player Jozy Altidore was racially abused by Dutch fans of FC Den Bosch, the team against which Altidore’s AZ Alkmaar was playing.
Unrelenting monkey chants. Just weeks after Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off a pitch in Italy in response to fans’ taunts.
UEFA/FIFA, get your house in order.
Rather than make clear from the top that racist abuse will not be tolerated, UEFA is worryingly silent. And when they do talk, like last summer when they fined a Danish player more for wearing unapproved underwear than they did the national teams whose fans abused black players like Theodor Gebre Selassie or Mario Balotelli, their priorities are never quite in line.
The silence and/or uselessness from the top leaves the sole responsibility of responding to racist fan culture to men who are barely adults and are being abused and attacked in their place of business. And when individuals are making decisions on the spot and under enormous pressure, we see a variety of responses that journalists and other commentators are taking it upon themselves to judge. Is Altidore’s playing on better than Boateng’s leaving?
Who are we to judge?
And why are we spending more time thinking about the individual choices these players are making instead of demanding that UEFA/FIFA treat this as an issue of utmost importance? We owe it to Jackie Robinson to demand better.
Kevin-Prince Boateng’s stand (or walk, more precisely) against racist fans. It speaks for itself.
racism in English soccer, redux
Not only is the John Terry debacle not dying down—Terry recently retired from international football before his FA disciplinary hearing—we seem to be hearing more about it, and racism in soccer, than ever. The Observer, for one, isn’t happy about where the FA seems to be on racism.
And the FA, even now, seem to have some difficulty learning lessons from this fiasco. In a briefing to journalists from the Sunday media on Thursday – before the publication of the independent commission’s report – the England manager, Roy Hodgson, responding to persistent questions, said he might consider giving the captaincy to Ashley Cole for the World Cup game against Poland to coincide with the defender’s 100th cap.
On Saturday the FA made it clear to those same journalists that they should not refer to that section of the press conference lest it reflect badly on Hodgson or the FA, or that not giving the captaincy would be seen as revenge for the Cole tweet. Perish the thought.
The fact that the request from the FA came with an implicit threat that anyone who ignored this advisory might suffer in terms of future cooperation from the FA is both abysmal and shocking.
Racism is vile and malevolent and has blighted many people’s lives. It continues to do so, although great strides have been taken to reduce its incidence. Only racists and intellectual Neanderthals would need convincing that society has to adopt a zero tolerance approach to incidences of racism, or racist insults. And that includes football.
As one writer noted on Saturday: “Most footballers get through the day without uttering a racist remark.” In fact, most of us get through the day without uttering a racist remark.
Terry and Cole are an embarrassment to football, to Chelsea and to England. The club – and just as importantly, their supporters – need to be seen to understand that clearly. And react accordingly.
There are new reports about racist chants in English stadiums as well. Stadiums of hate, anyone?
The Bolton striker Marvin Sordell has claimed he and several of his team-mates were racially abused by Millwall fans during his side’s 2-1 defeat at the Den.
The 21-year-old, who was a member of the Team GB squad at the London 2012 Olympics, wrote on Twitter that he had reported his allegations to officials, and claimed that midfielders Lee Chung-yong and Darren Pratley, plus his fellow forward Benik Afobe, had also been subjected to racist taunts by a section of home supporters.
Sordell, an unused substitute in the match, wrote: “Putting the match aside, its 2012 in England and people are still shouting racial abuse at a football game? Shocking.”
He added: “Chungy, Pratts, Benik and I had all sorts of things said to us. The police were standing yards away and did nothing.”
Sordell, who claims the word “slave” was among those aimed at him, also received abusive responses to his allegations on Twitter.
He added: “Funniest thing is if I had come on and scored and gave them some back, I would be the one who got fined.”
In effect, Mr. Cameron’s apology amounted to an acknowledgment that the official version of what happened in the Hillsborough disaster was a stereotyped overlay, eagerly crafted by the police, on a far more complex event that had its roots in bungling and a cover-up by the authorities.
'This appalling death toll of so many loved ones was compounded by an attempt to blame the victims,' Mr. Cameron said as the new report was published, effectively rejecting earlier findings by a judicial inquiry and an inquest whose narrow conclusions, blaming police failings but also pointing to unruliness among the victims, had been battled relentlessly by the families for more than 20 years.
Quoting from the new report, Mr. Cameron said: ‘The Liverpool fans were not the cause of the disaster. The panel has quite simply found no evidence in support of allegations of exceptional levels of drunkenness, ticketlessness or violence among Liverpool fans, no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late at the stadium, and no evidence that they stole from the dead and dying.’
More reasons why we should enjoy British men’s and women’s Olympic soccer while it’s still here
Sepp Blatter has played down the chances of Great Britain football teams competing at future Olympics. The Fifa president said the British Olympic Association’s desire to have men’s and women’s teams at future Games was “legitimate” but unlikely to be fulfilled.
"This is a wish and a legitimate wish of the British Olympic Association because they want to have a football team," said Blatter. "But this is quite a difficult task I can tell you. The four British associations would have to play a preliminary round because the qualification is the European Under-21 championships.
"Everything is possible but this would need a different approach and you have seen the difficulties they have already had to field a combined team here in London. So for the football family, and especially the four associations and Uefa, I don’t think it is likely to be done."
AARON RAMSEY is urging Welsh football fans to throw their support behind England’s finest young guns when Team GB play in the Olympics at the Millennium Stadium.
Ramsey is part of a five-pronged Welsh contingent who will spearhead the British charge for gold at London 2012, with their key group game against Uruguay taking place in Cardiff.
Stuart Pearce’s side may also have further matches at the Millennium and Wales skipper Ramsey wants Welsh fans to give unequivocal backing to the team.
Some English players at the Millennium have historically been jeered, while Ramsey and co are participating in the Olympics against a backdrop of angst from some Welsh supporters.
But Ramsey said: ‘I hope our home fans will come together for this occasion. They need to get behind the England players in Team GB as well, because this is a real one-off.’
suggested reading: team GB and the home nations edition
Several weeks ago, I mentioned that not only is Olympic men’s soccer a U-23 tournament, but there have been tensions over the very existence of a British soccer team. Now that we’re a week away from the Olympics, it’s time to investigate this further.
It turns out that Britain has not fielded an Olympic men’s soccer team in 50 years.
Poor old Team GB. Has there ever been a less keenly cherished national team than Stuart Pearce’s collection of 13 Englishmen, five Welshmen and the absent friends of Scotland and Northern Ireland?
The reasons for the historical sense of unease are clear enough….Mainly, though, it is the issue of mingled identities that has dogged British Olympic football through its distantly grand history. Assorted English amateur selections won gold at the Games of 1900, 1908 and 1912, after which a dispute over the inclusion of professionals curtailed Olympic involvement until 1936. Post-war, amateur home nations teams competed at every Games until 1972, after which Britain as an Olympic footballing nation simply ceased to exist, stymied by further wrangles over amateurism and muddled by misgivings among the home nations over their enduring status within Fifa.
The situation is even more stark for British women: until this year, there has never been a British women’s Olympic team.
The fielding of these two British teams is happening for only one reason: Olympic host nations qualify automatically. But it’s becoming clear that, for a country as soccer-mad as the UK, enthusiasm for this particular medal opportunity (at least for the men) is surprisingly low.
The first issue surrounds the inclusion of non-English players (i.e. Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish athletes). Of vital importance here is that the United Kingdom is a nation of nations, and this is shown clearly in international team sports like cricket, rugby, and soccer. The organizing bodies of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are worried that taking part in a British team would threaten their FIFA-sanctioned status as nations and their future ability to play as independent nations in international competitions, or put another way, that in future, there would be a single Britain team, representing all four nations. The individual associations made their concerns known early. In 2009, after years of wrangling, the three Celtic nations declared that they would not participate in a team GB, but they would not stand in the way of an all-England team. But these pronouncements held no legal weight; players could not be barred from playing for the newly-formed teams.
Playing in the Olympics is for some an especially appealing prospect, since Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland haven’t traditionally been good enough to qualify for either the World Cup or the European championship. For other players, however, national identity trumps concerns about international glory. Scotland’s Julie Fleeting announced last year that she would not be playing for team GB.
Fleeting, who plays for Arsenal, has ruled herself out. The 30-year-old has backed the stance of the Scottish Football Association, which believes any involvement could affect Scotland’s independence as a football nation.
Fleeting told the Scotsman: ‘My thoughts are these: first and foremost I am a Scottish international, and that’s the most important thing for me. The SFA [Scottish Football Association] make all the decisions in terms of the national team. I would definitely not step out and say I would like to play for Team GB.
'What I am saying is I would like to play for Scotland for as long as I am selected. I am delighted to pull on the jersey. That's the most important thing for me. I know it's the most important thing for all the girls that I play alongside. I would not want to jeopardise that.'
'Obviously the Olympics is a fantastic stage but I am Scottish through and through. It might mean our girls would not have the opportunity to play for the national team in the future because some of us went to play for Team GB. That's not a risk any of us are willing to take.'
Ryan Giggs has confirmed he wants to play for Team GB at the London Olympics even though his presence would disturb the Welsh Football Association.
The association, in common with the governing bodies of Scotland and Northern Ireland, fears that a Great Britain side will undermine the right of the four home nations to appear separately on the international stage. However, the 38-year-old is relishing the possibility of taking part and, alongside his former Manchester United team-mate David Beckham, is likely to be one of the three over-aged players allowed in the squad.
Giggs ended his career with Wales in 2007. It still left him with a hankering to appear at a major international tournament – Wales last did so when they reached the World Cup finals in 1958 – and Giggs is the only player over 23 at Old Trafford to have been given permission to take part.
Pearce could not find space for Beckham in his 18-man squad after a lack of defensive and attacking options led him to select Manchester City’s Micah Richards and Liverpool’s Craig Bellamy as two of his three overage players. That left the coach with a straight choice between Beckham and Giggs, with the latter’s more recent Premier League experience believed to have been a deciding factor.
It’s understandable, though. Giggs’s playing career has been exceptional, both in its quality and its length. (The man is 38.) And for all that, he’s never played in a major international tournament. Giggs will be the captain of the team.
And there’s still more mayhem. Not only does team manager Stuart Pearce have to negotiate these tricky minefields of national and cultural identities and loyalties, he also had a limited pool of U-23s available for selection. Why? Because England’s governing soccer body, The Football Association (otherwise known as the FA), declared that anybody who played in last month’s championships cannot be called up for the Olympics. The rule, according to Stuart Pearce last December:
'We have agreed that any player who boards the plane to the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine will not be considered for selection to Team GB.
It would be one thing if that just narrowed the over-age possibilities. But actually, that eliminates a few key players from the Euros…
…like this guy (age 21)—and the guy providing the assist (23):
…and this guy (23):
The reason the FA cites seem (and probably are) reasonable: player fatigue. But that isn’t stopping countries like Spain from shipping off three players from their winning team to London. And while Pearce supported this decision in December, now that he’s had to actually pick a roster, he’s less happy.
Stuart Pearce has placed himself on a potential collision course with the Football Association after criticising its insistence that, Jack Butland apart, no player involved in Euro 2012 could also feature in Great Britain’s Olympic squad.
Well aware that Spain’s Olympic squad includes three players who featured at Euro 2012 – Javi Martínez, Jordi Alba and Juan Mata – the former England left-back believes he should have been permitted to pick from a wider talent pool.
'I'll continually send the same message out that we have to take our best players to every tournament. Not just for the sake of the manager or the coach but for the players themselves; they have to experience tournament football.'
This is a less than ideal setup for a successful campaign. David Beckham’s exclusion has probably turned away some casual fans, even as some journalists are suggesting that Beckham’s exclusion may be a good thing.
Although Beckham now suffers from a chronic lack of pace and mobility, even if he can still unleash a few Pirlo-esque passes, there was arguably a case for naming him in the squad on exceptional dead-ball ability alone. Giggs, though, is currently a bit more versatile – as well as possessing the added benefit of being Welsh and thereby bringing geographical balance to the squad.
In many ways the antithesis of the celebrity culture which surrounds modern football, Pearce is also among the least likely to have been swayed by Beckham’s fame. Indeed he may instead have harboured real concerns about the media circus which invariably surrounds a man who appears to spend as much time modelling underwear and cosying up to politicians and royalty as actually playing football these days.
Beckham’s predilection for the limelight could well have provoked a muttering of discontent. Moreover the potential chemistry between the LA Galaxy midfielder and the notoriously straight-talking Craig Bellamy – another overage Welshman in the squad very much on merit – may have proved combustible.
Organizers are reducing capacity across the soccer venues by a half million seats, a response to ticket sales figures. Meanwhile, former players/current commentators are trying to rally support for the team. See Gary Neville, for example.
All of this leads to certain questions:
- for other Olympic and Paralympic sports, the Celtic nations are enthusiastic and valuable participants in the British sporting effort. Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, for example, is Welsh, as is star hurdler-turned-commentator Colin Jackson. And while Andy Murray strongly asserts his Scottish identity, he nonetheless gladly plays for Britain. So why do some sports (team sports?) require independent teams while other sports can fall under the rubric of Britain?
- Are the stakes higher for Scotland, the one home nation most likely to achieve independence?
- What is FIFA getting out of continuing to allow the home nations to have separate teams? Are there similar concerns with the rugby and cricket organizing bodies?
- If the British teams progress through the tournament, will we see increased support? And if we do, who will be doing the supporting? The English? Or a broader British base?
In the meantime, for more thorough arguments about maintaining these three autonomous Celtic teams, here are some links.
- Welsh historian Martin Johnes insists that Welsh players who choose to play for team GB are running the risk of undermining Welsh international soccer.
- A debate between a pro-British football politician and an anti-.
More to come on this.