Striving for Excellence

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 4:13 PM ET

Soccer is considered the world's game.

The Olympics are a celebration of the world's athletes.

But soccer is so big in scope, the Olympics are hardly the ultimate destination for the game's top players.

The World Cup is one of the greatest sporting spectacles on earth and held every four years. So is the European championship, whose matches often top the World Cup in quality and drama.

All you really need to know about Olympic soccer is that England -- the motherland of the beautiful game -- qualified both a men's and women's team for Beijing and aren't sending either.

In fact, England hasn't participated in Olympic soccer in more than 50 years.

That borders on the ridiculous.

It's like a major international hockey tournament minus Canada. Or a baseball championship without the United States. A top-flight rugby showcase with New Zealand stuck at home.

The reason, like so many involving soccer and Olympics, is politics.

As far as the governing IOC is concerned, England is part of Great Britain, which also includes Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales -- three nations that don't have special status at the Games.

But all four of those countries do have their own seats at the FIFA buffet and understandably don't want to surrender power at that table by joining forces with England for the sake of a gold medal.

Technically, a United Kingdom team could represent the area at the Olympics -- only no such team currently exists.

But it looks like a Great Britain team will be born.

London, after all, will play host to the 2012 Olympics and that right comes along with an automatic entry into each Games event. The British Olympic Association has said it will enter men's and women's soccer teams into that tournament -- and made that statement without approval from Wales and Scotland representatives.

They are following the lead of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who said Great Britain is entitled to "play with one team, but it is up to them how they do it." He suggested England enter its own under the GB banner if none of the other nations want to take part.

Blatter said Wales and Scotland wouldn't lose their FIFA privileges won 60 years ago, but it's obvious the countries aren't willing to take that chance by heeding his words.

The problem with a mixed team is qualification. The Olympics has become an under-23 tournament and all four countries compete separately at the championships where the teams qualify for the Games.

The British government wants Olympic participation moving forward from 2012.

But the London Games could end in a one-time deal followed by another lengthy absence by one of the world's great football nations.


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