London 2012: Home nations should back Team GB - Fifa official

By Richard ConwayBBC Sport

A leading Fifa official has urged the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Football Associations to allow their players to represent Team GB at London 2012.

Secretary general Jerome Valcke says the national associations should "forget about" fears over losing their independent status in world football.

"Let the players play. If they want to play, let them," he told BBC Sport.

"For the players, when you are 20, 21, 23 it's a dream. And that's what we have to respect."

The Scottish Football Association, Football Association of Wales and Irish Football Association have consistently opposed plans for a men's British football team at London 2012 but Valcke says they should put their fears to one side.

"You can always understand [their concerns] but you still hope that... we should forget about these problems when you're talking about an event like the Olympic Games."

The three FAs have all said that Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish players who choose to take part will not face punishment or risk exclusion from their national squads.

But SFA chief executive Stewart Regan has warned that players who do accept a call from Team GB coach Stuart Pearce may face a backlash from fans.

Welshmen Ryan Giggs, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey and Scotland's Steven Naismith are among the non-English players understood to have expressed an interest in playing this summer.

And Valcke is convinced their participation is essential for the team to be truly representative.

"There's a team and this team should be composed by the four British associations," he said.

"We finalised an agreement between the four British associations and Fifa. It took a long time - there was a lot of exchange of letters and things said, and a lot of words used in this period.

"Now it's up to the coach and the FA to finalise the composition of this team. But it should be a representation of a country."

When questioned over David Beckham's participation in Team GB at the expense of a younger player, Valcke was more ambivalent.

"It's a difficult question because I'm sure Beckham dreams about having the Olympic medal around his neck," he said.

"Beckham has played so many finals tournaments that you could say 'OK, it's the Olympics, please leave your place to a young player'.

"But I can understand that he is saying I want to be at this tournament, I want to play because it's in England, it's my team and it's so important for me. It's a very difficult question. Both points are valid."

Concerns over whether the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder is deserving of a place in Team GB have been raised in recent months by critics.

However, Valcke believes that if the former England captain is selected, it will be solely for football reasons.

"I don't think Beckham is going for commercial reasons," he said. "I'm sure that's not the point.

"I'm sure that if he wants to play for the Olympic team it's because he would love to become an Olympic champion."

Valcke also urged British fans to buy the remaining 1.5m tickets still available for the men's and women's football tournaments when they go back on sale next month.

He believes the large amount of football on offer to European fans may be responsible for the high number of unsold seats.

"The people are maybe spoiled - spoiled having too much sport, too much football," he said. "It takes time for them to realise that it is a real tournament, it's not just friendly games."

Valcke was also keen to highlight the strength of the women's tournament.

"The level of women's football today is a top, top one and [London 2012 will be] a great tournament."

The draw for the men's and women's football tournaments at the London 2012 Olympics is due to take place on 24 April at Wembley Stadium.

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