Coe: No pressure to select Beckham
By ALAN BALDWIN, REUTERS
ATHENS - David Beckham will have to earn his place in Britain's Olympic soccer squad on skill and merit like any other player and can expect no special favours, London 2012 organizers said on Thursday.
Speaking before the 37-year-old former England captain teamed up with a London delegation for the formal handing over of the Olympic flame, LOCOG chairman Seb Coe said there would be no attempt to twist the arm of Team GB manager Stuart Pearce.
"We have put absolutely no pressure on Stuart Pearce at all," he told reporters, a day after England manager Roy Hodgson named his provisional squad for the European championships in Poland and Ukraine next month.
"Stuart has to pick the team that he thinks will lift that (Olympic) trophy. I wouldn't expect any coach to be operating on any other basis, whether its wrestling or Olympic football," added Coe.
"You can never put pressure on coaches to choose people for any particular reason other than skill and merit."
No longer a part of England's international set-up and living in Los Angeles, Beckham has said repeatedly that he wants to play for the first United British soccer team to compete at the Olympics since 1960.
The London-born LA Galaxy player's presence in Athens and increasing involvement in the build-up to the Games has added to speculation he will be selected.
Pearce, also a former England international whose playing career overlapped with Beckham, can choose three 'over-age' players in what is otherwise an under-23 squad and now has a clear picture of who is available.
"Of course having David around the Olympic program is a fantastic thing but that is not for anyone other than Stuart to decide whether actually that brings 'value added' to the team," said Coe.
Hugh Robertson, the sports and Olympics minister who is also in Athens for the flame handover along with Britain's Princess Anne and London Mayor Boris Johnson, endorsed Coe's words.
"You can't have, in that highly competitive environment, a sentimental moment and pick somebody because it would be nice for the front page of the newspapers," he said.
"It is just not the way this process works any more. It would be lovely, yes, to see Beckham at the Olympics but he has to be there on the merits of his own performance and nothing else."
The announcement that Beckham, a global brand ambassador for Torch relay sponsor Samsung, would join the delegation in Athens and fly back with the flame on Friday was a main talking point on Wednesday.
There were some who questioned whether it was right to give such prominence to an athlete who has no Olympic pedigree and whose star quality and glamour as a sporting pin-up could overshadow others, but Coe dismissed that.
"David has been with us from the beginning," he said.
"He was there when the evaluation team came through London, he has hosted people on the Olympic Park for us, even before (the winning bid was announced in) Singapore he was travelling independently for us and helping us get some of the core messages across.
"It is absolutely right that he should be with us. As he so elegantly put it in Singapore, it (London) is his 'hood'.
"It would be ridiculous not to use someone who has been intimately involved with the whole process and actually rings up on a regular basis to ask if there's anything else he needs to know or can do to help us," said Coe.