BBC BLOGS - Ollie Williams
« Previous | Main | Next »

How hockey united the Home Nations

Post categories:

Ollie Williams | 13:56 UK time, Thursday, 23 June 2011

Creating a British football team to play at London 2012 makes hosting the rest of the Games look like child's play.

Leading figures in the sport expressed anger bordering on disgust following the British Olympic Association's announcement, on Tuesday, that a "historic agreement" had paved the way for a GB football team.

Former Scotland manager Craig Brown said any Scots who chose to play in that team would be "selfish", adding: "There might no longer be a Scottish team."

He, and many others, fear a united British team at the Olympics may see the home nations' teams subsumed into Great Britain for ever more.

Others, like Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington, took a different view. "I understand players wanting to play in an Olympics and they shouldn't be criticised for that," said Worthington on Thursday. "As an international manager I would have no problem with players wanting to be involved."

But while the debate over how to field a British football team has raged for years, hockey, which has a similar structure in the United Kingdom, reckons it has an answer which solves the political quandaries and boosts its chances of Olympic medals.

This article, originally published in April 2010 and now updated, examines what the sport of hockey has done and what relevance that has to football's current quandary.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

My video report on GB hockey from the Bisham Abbey National Sport Centre

Making a British hockey team work alongside the English, Scottish and Welsh national sides is extremely difficult.

The logistics alone are mind-boggling: which players play where, and when? Who do they train with? To which international competitions will a British team be sent instead of the home nations? Who picks, and coaches, the British squad?

It will come as no surprise that hammering out solutions to these problems has taken hockey decades. But those solutions now exist, and appear to be keeping officials, coaches and players happy - certainly within the British squad, which has to be the sport's focus given the cash and exposure an Olympic medal brings.

Up to and including the Beijing Games of 2008, there was no such thing as a British hockey team until the final year of each four-year Olympic cycle. Then, like magic, a GB set-up materialised and did its best to piece together a British squad. After the Games, that would disband for the next three years, until another frantic year of Olympic preparation, and so on.

That has all changed thanks to an agreement signed between the English, Scottish and Welsh federations in 2006.

"I think British hockey really has got its act together very well," says Richard Leman, the current president of GB Hockey.

"We must be unique compared to many sports as we've got England, Scotland and Wales to sign a piece of paper agreeing to a system. We've concentrated on putting the athlete first and there are many other sports who struggle to do it.

"It was difficult, though. We spent just over a year in discussions, negotiations, talks, all conducted in a very professional way. But if we wanted to start winning Olympic medals then we had to get rid of the system where GB only came into existence for the last year of the four-year cycle.

"That's a disaster from a performance perspective. Now, we can put on a GB team at any time, which makes a huge difference to the players."

The agreement made a British team a permanent fixture in hockey, but that means employing people to organise and run it, and deciding on a squad of players drawn from the home nations. So, it was concluded, the home nation ranked highest in the world would become the "nominated country" whose staff called the shots at British level.

That nominated country is, and is likely to remain, England for both the men and women. The English men's team are ranked sixth as of April 2010, with the Scots 23rd and Welsh 27th, while the women's picture is very similar - England seventh, Scotland 23rd and Wales 28th. The English are in no danger of being usurped.

"The important thing about England being the nominated country is there is an opportunity for the others, it's not a closed shop. It's important, politically, that other countries realise there is a chance to get that nomination," Leman argues - even if that chance is slim at best. He concedes Scotland and Wales are not exactly knocking on the door.

"Not at this moment in time, but you just don't know where we'll be in 10 years. You've got to think of this as an agreement that will stand the test of time. There's a chance for them to do it, but it's important that if one country is leading the way, you can plug into that sort of skill base and expertise."

Scotland and Wales are now feeling the heat for their relative lack of performance compared to England.

"The home nations can still play to world level (even with a British team in existence)," explains David Faulkner, the British hockey performance director charged with masterminding a bid for Olympic gold.

"And if they do then GB can be stronger. What we'd like to see is Scotland and Wales higher up the rankings. A stronger home nations group will give us a stronger GB group."

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Watch full interviews with Danny Kerry, David Faulkner and Richard Leman

Getting an agreement in place that creates a permanent British team, and populating it with staff, is only one side of the coin. You also need players, and a squad is precious little use if they only ever see each other for matches (which was the initial problem). So Danny Kerry, the English women's head coach who duly took over the British women's programme, devised a solution.

His main concern was that Scottish and Welsh players, going back to their respective national sides in the mid-20s of the world rankings, would miss out on the top-class experience the English receive thanks to the quality of their opponents and team-mates.

"I've done what I've done with the programme here to overcome that very issue," he tells me, having just seen his Britons lose 3-1 to China, the second time the Chinese have beaten them in three days.

"The English girls are very fortunate, they play at world level consistently, in big games against big teams. There's no substitute for that kind of experience, you have to be involved in those games. That's what these matches against China are about."

We are standing on the pitch at the Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre, off the M40 in Buckinghamshire, which is now the home of Great Britain - of which Kerry is proud. He believes he now oversees a fully fledged British programme comparable with other Olympic sports, like cycling.

"Years ago, I started saying that if we wanted to win medals at the highest level then the players had to train full-time, together as a team, not as disparate units around the UK.

"It's taken a long time to get here, but all of the players have relocated. Now, they come in to Bisham for three days a week and do strength and conditioning for the other two days."

All three - Leman, Faulkner and Kerry - admit they would rather simply have a British team and get rid of the Home Nations, even if they don't quite couch it in those terms.

Kerry says the current situation is "not ideal"; Faulkner says a GB team on its own would be his "performance preference"; Leman believes that is the best "no-compromise, performance-only approach" but a "step too far" for hockey to conquer.

"It's a cross we have to bear in these isles," adds Leman. "The agreement of at least getting GB the ability to play throughout the four-year cycle is a significant step. I don't think we'll ever get GB all the time, but this is a major improvement."

It certainly is, and the reasons why reform cannot go further are obvious. Turkeys will not vote for Christmas, and nobody at the English, Scottish or Welsh federations is going to take themselves out of existence for a greater British good.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

GB's Crista Cullen speaks to BBC Sport after China defeat

But, though the British officials speak highly of their colleagues, the continued presence of the home nations must be a thorn in their side. The three federations all need money to run (and beyond staffing, think of things like separate kits, publicity, websites and so on, all of which are replicated several times over). Plus, trying to promote the home nations and Great Britain is a marketing nightmare.

Leman perfectly exemplified the confusion when speaking about the women's Champions Trophy, a prestigious international tournament coming to Nottingham in July 2010.

"The ladies' team hosting the tournament is great for this country," he said. "I think GB have a chance there."

Well, no, they don't, because they're playing as England. Any immaculately suited marketing consultant will tell you having one, strong brand to push always beats selling several weaker ones.

If GB Hockey isn't sure who's playing where, it's hard to expect the public to know what's going on or how it all works. But the mistake is understandable, isn't it? If you chop and change teams all year, the boundaries are going to become blurred.

This may be the factor that dissuades the home nations' football associations from going down a similar road for London 2012. There will almost certainly be a British football team there, but it is expected to be no more than a temporarily rebadged England side.

The likes of the Scottish FA are terrified (as exemplified by Craig Brown) that, by being absorbed into a British set-up even for just one Olympic appearance, the Fifa special exemption which allows the home nations to exist as separate footballing entities will be washed away.

Any blurring of boundaries there, and the home nations will have horrific visions of Wayne Rooney, Craig Bellamy and Kevin Kyle up front for Britain at the 2014 World Cup.

Football's worst nightmare is hockey's ideal way forward, and it would be hard to realistically suggest football follows hockey's lead. The two operate indifferent worlds: one with the vested interests of millions of highly partisan fans to take into account, the other desperate for Olympic success to keep the funds flowing.

The last word goes to Alex Danson, 24-year-old forward for Britain and England.

"Things have changed massively and we have the most fantastic opportunity now," she says.

"Previously we just didn't have the contact time together. Now we have that and we have the best facilities, here at Bisham. It's really exciting because we're all driven by one goal: we want to be there at 2012, competing for that top spot."

Getting the population of the UK to unite behind a British Olympic team in 2012 is going to be a big challenge. Hockey highlights how the concept of Britain can work in practice, but it is showing up some of the pitfalls too.


  • Comment number 1.

    How many Scottish and Welsh players play for The GB hockey team? Surely if the coach of England is the same person as the coach of GB then there may be animosity by other players perceiving England bias. Or animosity in the England camp if one of their players is over-looked for the GB team in favour of a Scottish/Welsh player...

    The comparison to football doesn't stick either as to a football player or fan's mind winning the olympics is not a major achievement in comparison to world cups or even domestic leagues. Hockey has done this out of necessity as it is a minority sport, football has no need to follow this mish-mash comprimise...

  • Comment number 2.

    A British Olympic football team does not need much advertisement.

    I think that a football team consisting of solely one Home Nations 'nominated' is the best way forward so the Welsh and Scottish FAs don't feel threatened.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think it just shows how small minded football associations can be. This is not about them but is about the players. What an honour it would be for them to play for Team GB! They've all said as much. Rugby Union is a good example. Every 4 years the unions get together for the British and Irish Lions tour. The players and unions see this as it is, a great occasion for the players and the fans. This also benefits the unions themselves as it brings them extra revenue and prestige.

    Football need to look at how much of an honour this would be for the players and agree to it. It's only every 4 years!

  • Comment number 4.

    The Lions is seen as the pinnacle of rugby for many British players due to the prestige and history associated with it.

    However, this will never be apparent in football. As it is football at the Olympics is far from the pinnacle of any players career. It is wholey undermined by the fact that it is an under-23 tournament.

    The great spectacle that is the Olympic Games does not require football and the great world of football does not require itself to be part of the Olympic Games.

    They are seperate entities and should remain seperate. Forcing the issue will not work and will only demean the both sides.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hockey has done well in setting up Team GB - but only that on a full-time basis will produce lasting success.

    As I have said previously, GB is always the pinnacle. England, Scotland and Wales can still exist but at a lower level - acting as a development set-up for players to progress into the GB team.

    We shouldn't have the stupid situation where England have to qualify for the Olympics on behalf of GB, or just an England team go to World Cups etc. It's a wasted opportunity to use the talent in the Scotland and/or Wales sides to improve the whole country's chances.

    For football it is less of a problem because the sport isn't centred around an event where the competing team is Britain. 2012 is a one-off event and it would be very nice to have a football team at our games - even if football (or golf or tennis) shouldn't be an Olympic sport.

    What an opportunity to generate some more pride in the British Isles.

  • Comment number 6.

    Big difference. Hockey gets more exposure out of the Olympics than the Worlds. For soccer, the opposite is true. Soccer contributes virtually nothing to the Olympics and the Olympics contributes virtually nothing to soccer - and the underlying implication that soccer is somehow critical to the London games just shows what an absolute sham they're going to be.

  • Comment number 7.

    Just a quick correction to the_hector's post. Hockey is not a minority sport. Yes it is smaller than football, everything is smaller than football, but in England it has a similar number of senior players to Rugby and world wide it is the second largest participant team sport after football.

    Football could learn huge amounts from hockey (and many other sports) but football associations are too small minded and stuck in the past (video assistance anyone?) and quite frankly I don't see why anyone should bother doing it. Field a token football side at 2012 and give it next to no coverage leaving more airtime for all the other sports.

  • Comment number 8.

    darkvalleysboy1978 is correct in principle but remember, FIFA would prefer it if the Home nations unified thus creating more space for other nations. The SFA is right to be suspicious of Blatters assurances - Personally I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him.

    The RFU conversely is happy with the status quo of separate home nations as it means that there are more world class nations playing the sport.

  • Comment number 9.

    how about we get round it by appearing at the Olympics as Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England rather than Great Britain

  • Comment number 10.

    Why contaminate an otherwise good article with football references? What a shame.

    The multi-million pound business that also includes a game that is called football has no bearing on proper sports where a large majority of the followers are also participants.

    Please try harder and work your analogies to more aligned sports that are available?


  • Comment number 11.

    Sure this is a good thing for Hockey, but I'm sure in the Hockey world. The players and coaches in the ENGLAND camp know the Scottish players very well. However in football in England- Scottish football is just dismissed and all the coverage on TV, the web and in the newspapers is on the English Premier League and it's players.

    Most fans, coaches and some managers to an extent in England haven't got a clue about Scottish players and our League with a few exceptions.

    You only have to look at the TV coverage and this BBC website to see how biased it is towards English football. Even to the loss of other sports. There is a definite arrogance of the English league and it's players in the media.

    It's this that makes Scottish football fans cheer against England at the World Cup etc, not a dislike of the English.

    As a Scot there is no way I want to have a British team, as our players no matter how good would hardly get a look in, even though I am as proud to be British, as I am a Scot. I cheer on Britain in every Sport, but this is a step too far.

    On another note. Good luck to the British Hockey team. I hope that you do well.

  • Comment number 12.

    I suspect one of the reasons for maintaining the England, Scotland and Wales boards is similar to Football - the number of places available at the Eurohockey league (equivalent in standing to the champions league)is greater as the Scots get a place for their domestic champion.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hockey needs to do it because as people have said earlier, the Olympics is the pinnacle of their sport. The Olympics for football is a pain where most if not all European clubs are forced to let their players go the it. Can't you remember there were a few players and clubs that were forced in the end to go. I'm sure it goes World Cup, European Championship. Champions League, Premier League. Olympics won't even get a mention for football.

    We have all 4 nations on the FIFA top council and I would be very surprised if there was ever a British team we would still be allowed for and there would be some motion to bring them under a British squad.

    This might help the big Scotish football clubs to get into the English Premier League but that's it.

    Remember on the news a month or so back there was someone selling tea shirts with A.B.E on it which stood for Anyone But England. Whilst the Olympics are on then we come together as one nation but that is basically it. For most of the other sports or competitions then it is as individual nations. You could ask why we become one nation in the Olympics and not at any other time!!

  • Comment number 14.

    Merging Scottish, Welsh, N Irish and English football associations would:

    - Eradicate 130+ years of independent history and nullify all existing caps and goals records;
    - Reduce the number of places open to club sides in European competition;
    - Reduce the opportunity to play international football by 75% for British youngsters;
    - Require huge infrastructural investment so that Belfast could host games as often and large as Wembley;
    - Lead to tribal divisions in the media and amongst fans, especially wehn the side did not contain players from certain nations, if it was genuinely picked on ability.

    So darksvalleyboy78 and others above who call football associations small-minded, maybe you should just think a little bit about practicality, even if tradition means nothing to you.

  • Comment number 15.

    @Space Invader

    And the problems with all that is exactly what?

    If proper Sports can achieve this why do you think that Football will have a problem.... Ah Yes... Lots of gullible people who are being fleeced by businesses into spending a fortune to *watch* a game.

    How does that relate to actual people participating?

    Take care


  • Comment number 16.

    It's no wonder we can't get our heads around a united Europe when we haven't learned to become a United Kingdom yet!! One UK team for EVERY sport, one coaching standard, one management - no more Sport Scotland, Wales, England or N. Ireland, equal funding for every talented individual in the UK and we can ALL cheer the ONE team to victory!!

  • Comment number 17.

    Hey Nick_Hove_Actually. Don't take it to heart, the Aussies do it to the New Zealanders and vice verca, as do other nations - it's only a bit of leg pulling . Isn't it?

  • Comment number 18.

    It's great to see a blog about hockey, it never gets much media attention and yet it is a fantastic sport!
    As much as I love football, please keep up the blogs about other sports!

  • Comment number 19.

    melon62, I don't take it to heart at all. I find it very funny.

    Whilst people are going on about only 1 UK team for every sport, can I just ask what would happen if that was the case and then Scotland voted and got its independence!! Surely they would have to leave and set up on their own again.

    Looks like Rugby Union won't have a six nations as it would only be 3.

    Also in a few years time if we suddenly become the United States of Europe does that then mean that there would be only one team from Europe instead of the individual countries!!

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi Nick_Hove_Actually. So what is your problem. If (and it is a big if) Scotland vote for independence then they just then go their own way.
    As for the United States of Europe, you are surely not thinking that each member country would give up their sovereignty are you? Don't be so stupid and naive - the four 'home unions' in football are all about political accountancy and voting rights coupled with the massaging of massive egos just loving their power broking rights. The UK should have one team representing them drawn from the best players available regardless of whether they were born in Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland or England. If this had been the case the World Cup would have seen the greatest British player ever, play in the finals - George Best.

  • Comment number 21.

    Ridiculous article. I suggest you do some research into football before writing such rubbish.

    This cannot be compared with football. As several people have pointed out, the Olympics is not the pinnacle of the game of football. How many professionals would want to risk injury to play in the olympics anyway? How many would want the extra games involved in an already packed year, that, if good enough, would also involve representing your country at the European Championships? As England are unlikely ever to be usurped by the smaller nations, you are suggesting that they represent Britain at the Olympics. Now apart from this not being at team that actually represents Britain in an inclusive way, do you think the Engilish FA will have any wish to have their best players involved in 2 seperate events in the same year? Given that the European Championships has a great amount of prestige attached, and the Olympics basically means nothing in footballing terms, I rather think not.

    I admittedly know very little about Hockey and how the home nations Hockey Administrations interact, but is it not likely that with the disparity in world rankings that the Welsh and Scottish nations have accepted that they are unlikely to be good enough to have any representation in a truly British team, and just left England to it? Is it not also likely that allowing one nation to represent Britain, that this will further increase the gap between the home nations? If there is funding given to develop Hockey for the Olympics, which is a prestigious competition in the Hockey Calendar, it is then going to be focussed on the team that is going to represent the nation? That is to say England.

    This article to me seems to have been ill considered, and written in an Anglocentric way which I thought was disappearing from our sports journalists. An English team is not a British team and never will be. Just like a Scottish or Welsh team will never be a British team. And that is the way it should be.

  • Comment number 22.

    Hi all. Thanks, as ever, for all the comments. Interesting that there's a fair old polarisation of opinion around this.

    the_hector - there are Scottish and Welsh players, but the GB team I saw last Friday was entirely English in composition. It's not a bad point about bias but it's hard to see how that is ever conquered... whoever runs the British team, they're going to have to be one nationality or the other. Unless, of course, they appoint a foreign coach, in which case hockey would be taking its lessons from football!

    The comparison to football wasn't made as a hard-and-fast contrast between equals. As I say in the main text, these are sports which exist in different worlds, and no two sports can really be compared as identical units. But football faces a similar dilemma to the one hockey has overcome, and I think the way hockey has done that is interesting. As I specifically say in the blog, I don't think hockey's solution can apply to football. Nor am I suggesting it should.

    As several people have said, the fact that the Olympics is a footnote in football's calendar means the compulsion to produce a strong GB team is not going to match hockey's desire for that end product. And whether football should even be an Olympic sport - from the Games' and the sport's points of view - is an entirely different, sprawling debate. But I don't think that means it's pointless exploring the way hockey has gone about making the changes it has.

    moodyboots - not a bad reversal of the initial premise! After all, it's what happens at the Commonwealths... similarly, Nick_Hove_Actually, it sounds unreasonable to ask why a British team competes at the Games instead of the Home Nations, doesn't it - but I'm not sure it actually is. But having one team at the pinnacle of each sport would certainly focus the funding, coaching, publicity etc. That's kind of the point I was gunning for here - that yes, GB has a united hockey team, but the Eng/Scot/Wales layer is still there, arguably not doing a lot to further the Olympic cause. (Though they would argue they're doing plenty in terms of training, development and regional organisation.)

    TheMF8 - very strange way of looking at it. Six paragraphs out of 43 contain a reference to football. This is a blog about hockey, with an analogy to football provided as that's a story far more people are familiar with, and, I thought, may help to place hockey's efforts in some form of sporting context for those who haven't read much about it before. There are also 15 minutes of video on this blog dedicated entirely to hockey. I'd have thought that was enough to satisfy even the most hard-line one-sport-per-blog puritan...

    Castle Greyskulls Gers Men - found your point about a comparative lack of knowledge when it comes to Scottish football interesting. It wasn't something I'd considered. If you worry about a lack of media knowledge when it comes to Scottish football, how about the hockey model where there's a lack of knowledge no matter which nation is involved?

    sidintery - Not sure you've quite got the right end of the stick. Or indeed the stick at all.

    The point about the comparison I have dealt with just above, and you're absolutely right that the Olympics is not the pinnacle of the footballing calendar. However, when it comes to putting a GB team together where previously none existed, hockey has demonstrated one way of doing it.

    What you seem to have concluded is that I'm all in favour of football doing the exact same thing. But nowhere have I said that, nor do I believe that. Large chunks of the above blog are dedicating to pointing out potential flaws that still exist within hockey's solution, and still more of the blog points towards reasons why it doesn't work for football anyway.

    And yet, I am apparently an Anglocentric journalist suggesting England represent Britain at the Olympics. Which is not only wrong but also implies you haven't grasped how hockey's system works. As the nominated country, English staff - like head coach Danny Kerry - take the lead. But the squad is still made up of players from all nations, on merit, as explained above. England does not simply represent Britain.

    The great irony being, that is precisely what is expected to happen with football at London 2012. The solution last put forward by the Home Nations' football associations in May 2009 was for the England team to just be called "Britain" at 2012. That's absolutely not the solution hockey uses, but it is the one football is likely to choose. So if you think that's Anglocentric and ill considered, you need to take it up with the relevant football associations, not yours truly.

  • Comment number 23.


    Thank you for the response but believe me I am very much not a blog purist. However as someone who by his own submission says "I'm Ollie, and I cover sports which don't normally hit the headlines - from archery to ice hockey." there are any number of sports that you could have used for comparisons.

    Why is is always Football?

    You mention above that it will make is easier for the Football followers to understand, Were I a football fan I would find that insulting TBH.

    It is just a shame, I feel, that if you had done a bit more research on the "sports which don't normally hit the headlines" either being team sports or teams of individual sportsmen and women your opinion would have far more relevance.

    I would have thought that it would have been obvious that the game of Football doesn't give two hoots about the real pinnacle of sporting prowess that is the Olympics.

    Take care


  • Comment number 24.

    I thank you for clearing up some confusion I have obviously had. However, I think you have misunderstood where the Anglocentric reasoning has come in.

    The solution to creating a competetive GB hockey team is one that sees the best ranked home nation taking up management of that team. Although I agree that this may produce the team most likely to be successful, I find it far fetched to suggest that this is a truly British solution to the problem. With an English management, this is understanable going to result in preference given to English players. One because the quality of player is generally better, two because the coaching staff will know the English players better and have a good working relationship, and three, because coaching is likely to take place in a location more accessible to the English players.

    The Anglocentricism does not come from the suggestion that the English should represent a British team, but from not grasping the inherent difficulties in including the other nations properly in such a set up. It seems to me there is an inability to understand why such a solution might disadvantage the other home nations, and why it gives advantage to the English hockey set up. If we are to see benefit for the whole of British sport in whatever field, a British solution has to properly consider what will benefit all British athletes as a whole. Not just what is most likely to win a medal. At the end of the day, if your representation is going to be made up players from only one of the home nations, which I think is likely to be the case in most sports with this set up, you can't expect the nation as a whole to support the team. I want to support a British Team, and yes, it may be difficult to produce a truly British team, and yes, it may mean fielding a weaker team than may be possible, but at least it would be British. If you end up fielding teams that are populated by athletes from one nation, just admit it is that nation. Don't try pass it off as British because, technically, the set up appears to be inclusive, whereas practically, it is unlikely to be. You have said that this solution has the backing of the other nations, however, there don't seem to be any supporting quotes from anyone outside of the English set up. I have no doubt that they did accept this as you say, but the reasons may be more complex than just thinking that it was best for British Hockey, and may come down to ensuring funding and continued access to the best facilities and coaches. Which I'm sure are all located in England.

    I apologise, I focussed my response far too much on football. this was an article about progress in Hockey. however, I have not actually concluded that you think football should follow Hockey's lead, although the way in which you set out your first paragraph seems to suggest that there could be merit in applying Hockey's solution to Football. What I have concluded is that it is entirely pointless comparing the two, and have outlined just a few of the many reasons why it will never happen. You have said yourself that this is the case. What I don't understand is why you have even mentioned football in this context.

  • Comment number 25.

    TMF - there are plenty of sports, volleyball and basketball being ones which appear off the top of my head, which could have been relevant, but there are only so many words a boy can reasonably get away with typing. In the circumstances, I thought a passing analogy to the problems faced by a far more mainstream sport was of interest. The blog isn't about football, it's about hockey with a nod to the similar difficulties elsewhere. Hockey fans may well also like football, and football fans have an outside chance of also knowing their hockey. I would venture that the number of readers who know their hockey and their volleyball is fairly minimal (though some may well do!), so then you start explaining the governing structures of two sports in one blog, and it takes on gargantuan dimensions. Please don't read too much into the football comparison, as though it somehow shuns every other Olympic sport, which isn't the case.

  • Comment number 26.

    And sidintery - I've not actually advocated the hockey system as a "British solution to the problem", simply said that the people within the British set-up that I've spoken to (coaches, organisers, players) all seem to like the way it's working. Sadly there were, on the day, no Scottish players there to speak to as they'd joined the Scotland World Cup qualifying squad, but in the future I'd like to speak to them, too, to see if they feel the same way. The English players told me their Scottish colleagues were just as keen, but it'd be good to hear that from them directly. Most of your complaint around Anglocentricism (is that a word, or have I just made that up?) relies on my actively promoting hockey's solution, which I'm not.

    How would you set up a British hockey team in a way that eliminated bias, though? Short of appointing a foreign coaching team, as I said above, surely you're always going to have staff from one country or another - unless you try to weight the system somehow, to give each nation some sort of proportional representation. (At which point I start to sound more like a General Election blogger than an Olympic sports writer.)

    I don't think it's "entirely pointless" comparing the two sports. The essential thread here is: "Football has struggled with this, as has hockey, but the system hockey has put in place seems to be one which, after a few years, is appreciated by the coaches and players. Here's how that system works, and what the British set-up thinks of it. Here are one or two issues. And among those issues, here are reasons why football probably won't fancy this idea."

    Football is raised as an interesting point of comparison because it is a sport vastly different to hockey, certainly in terms of its popularity (as a spectator sport at least), but one which is facing the same core issue: put out a British team for the Olympics. Preferably one that can win. But that brief comparison shouldn't detract from the fact that the focus is on hockey.

  • Comment number 27.

    Incidentally 4 out of 18 of the GB team are Scottish giving Scotland 22% of the places despite having less than 10% of the population of GB. If anything I would say that Scotland are over represented in team GB so the current system isn't actually detrimental to Scotland at all. I think it gives all of GB an equal opportunity if they're good enough and I for one will be supporting Team GB.

  • Comment number 28.


    Once again thank you for the response. I am genuinely not having a go, as mentioned I thought the article was good but the premise of the article, the fact that sports have country components and not necessarily a "Team GB" approach is the point I would have thought?

    Discussing this issue does not imply a deep explanation of the rules of any particular sport where the issue pertains.

    Oh well just a comment/opinion really.



  • Comment number 29.

    No, reading through it again, you've not actually advocated, but it is not a balanced discussion of the topic. This leads one to assume that you are promoting this solution. I understand the idea is to promote discussion, therefore a balanced view from all parties involved would be preferable.

    If the Welsh and Scottish associations are happy with this, then I must assume that they are getting something beneficial out of it which doesn't involve having much or any representation in a GB team for the foreseeable future. Personally I don't see any difference between this and the rebranding of an England team as a GB team. It is just paying lip service to the GB reference. Without any further information I can only assume that accepting this set up provides benefits for Wales and Scotland competing as individual nations in other competitions. I don't really think this is acceptable, as it seems to me just a way of buying of the weaker nations to allow England to represent GB, with the option of poaching any players who make the grade from the other nations.

    And, sorry, but it is entirely pointless to compare Football and Hockey in this context. You suggest that they face similar difficulties, but with the extremely differing amounts of money and press, and support involved, the difficulties are different on a massive scale. But, yes, enough about football, it shouldn't be in the Olympics anyway.

    (Anglocentrcism is mine, I believe)

  • Comment number 30.

    I think what is also interesting is that there doesn't appear to be the same negativity about a Team GB among other sports. It only seems to be football that has a problem with the idea. And we shouldn't forget that a Team GB football team competed up to the 1972 Olympic games.

  • Comment number 31.

    I think there is a clear cultural difference between sports whose primary exposure comes at the Olympic Games (such as Hockey) and those whose lay elsewhere (Football, Rugby et al). In the former people, rightly or wrongly, only see these sports in the public eye at the Olympics where there only ever been a united British team, so therefore it appears completely natural for these sports to appear as such (even if away from the Olympics, as in hockey, the same is not true). And, of course, for the latter we are all so used to seeing the individual home nations compete separately that even the mere suggestion of changing the status quo seems an affront to tradition.

    As for the supposed "Anglocentrism" of the British Hockey set-up, should we therefore accuse the GB Curling team of being wholly Biased towards Scotland?

  • Comment number 32.

    Yes we should accuse the GB curling team of being wholly biased to Scotland. However, due to the way curling is played, one team will always play together because an intricate knowledge of your teammates ability is required. As a result of this a curling team will always be made up of nationals of one country. The general method for selecting the team for World Championships is by putting forward the team that wins their national championship. This is what every country does. I don't believe this is a fair way of representing GB, and is likely to allow more development of talent in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK. As curling is not really a popular sport though, there's not much of an outcry about it.
    Relating this to the Hockey, I think I would be less affronted if there was an agreement to have the home nations play off to represent GB than this system. Basically both will result in England representing the UK, but at least one is not trying to pass itself off as improving the chances of athletes from the other home nations taking part. Indeed I think there is actually some merit in having a single nation represent GB as it can only be a benefit that you have a group of coaches and players who are used to working together. What worries me about that in the case of sports where the Olympics is the pinnacle, is that this risks marginalising some of our nations in certain sports due to the limited funding being focussed on the most successful nation. For sports where there is home nation representation, this could lead to a situation where funding is given say, to develop curling in Scotland, Hockey in England (to use the two examples mentioned), to the detriment of athletes in these sports in other countries. Possible the main problem is that we measure success by the winning of medals, and we want to find a quick way of ensuring that. I would prefer that we take the longer term view and that we realise the maimum potential from our athletes across the UK.

  • Comment number 33.

    It would appear from your comments that your issue is that the English team is being rebadged as GB which is not in fact the case. Yes the English federation manages Team GB but they are free to choose players from all the home countries. I really don't see an issue with this set up.

  • Comment number 34.

    It would appear that you have not read my comments properly. My issue is with the danger of rebadging any home nation team to represent GB, as it means that any funding given to support these sports will be focussed on the development of one nations athletes. I think this is likely to lead to that one nation becoming stronger in that sport to the detriment of the others. My issue with the Hockey set up is that it claims to be inclusive, whereas I think that it will end in the same result. More development of players in England and a reducing chance of other players representing GB, allied with a generally increasing gap in the quality of coaching, players and facilities between England and the rest of GB.

    Thank you for allowing me to better explain my position. Say hi to JC for me.

  • Comment number 35.


    It is an interesting point that although the structure may be in place to allow anyone to play for Team GB, if funding is directed at a single federation then players in other areas would lose out. It's not as big an issue for players already at the top of their game who would just move to wherever the best opportunities or facilities are but if there is a lack of funding at the grass roots level in Scotland then I agree, there will simply be no Scottish players who would be good enough to play for GB.

    Do you think there is an argument then for a GB hockey federation who will be a seperate organisation with overall control and to whom the English, Welsh and Scottish federations are affiliated to? Funding could then be directed at the GB level and redistributed accordingly.

    Incidentally as a player himself, JC is giving me the lowdown on all things hockey.

  • Comment number 36.

    Ahh, had JC's talents been picked up earlier, there may have been one more Scot in the GB team.

    There is always an argument for setting up a GB body. But then there is the difficulty of how to distribute GB funding fairly to all federations. Obviously English Hockey is far better than the rest of the UK at the moment, so any distribution of funds would have to ensure that the English game was able to continue to develop. I suspect with the limited funds available, if the funding required to significantly improve performance, uptake and facilities in Scotland and Wales, then there would be very little left over for the English federation.

    My solution would be to forget about senior hockey at the moment. Set up a GB hockey federation which holds all funding for Hockey. Set up locally accessible hockey centres all over the country. Have good quality coaches available to each local centre (probably have a group of coaches responsible for several centres). Local centres would promote and develop hockey in young players (say from the age of 10). These centres would be able to identify players with potential. Local centres could put forward their best players to regional centres as they get older. The best players from the regional centres would then get scholarship at GB level, to develop further with other talented players from the home nations.

    So basically, the whole GB setup starts from a young age, and the whole of GB is given a fair chance of developing players. Home nation squads should benefit through better support for athletes.

    Problems with this; I'm not sure of the club hockey setup, so it may not fit in, I find it unlikely that any sport would ignore its senoir representatives to focus on grassroots, and in any case, may prove too expensive.

    I have a feeling that I've now diverged quite far off topic.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.