When over 70,500 spectators packed into Wembley for Team GB’s match against Brazil in the Olympic football competition, many involved in the women’s game saw it as a landmark occasion.
This, followed by a high octane encounter between the USA and Canada, and an Olympic Record attendance in the final between the US and Japan, appeared to indicate that women’s football had finally plotted its point on the UK map after years of being in the shadows.
However, the FA’s decision to publicly distance itself from supporting a women’s team at the next Olympics in Rio will come as a blow to players and staff involved in the summer games.
OK, let’s not get carried away, domestic women’s football was never going to attract the sort of crowds seen at the Olympics straight away.
The FA Women’s Super League can attract anything from a few hundred people to just over a thousand, while the England national team will see around 5,000-10,000 pass through the turnstiles.
But it is momentum and publicity that will see more people take an interest in the game, and through major competitions, such as the Olympics, it will receive the exposure it desperately needs.
However, we are now presented with the possibility of never seeing a Team GB football team again. Ask the players for their response, and “gutted” is likely to be the reply you’ll receive.
Unlike the men’s competition, the Olympics are on a par with the World Cup in the women’s game. As mentioned in an earlier blog, there are no age restrictions, so the best players from each country participating will be present.
To prevent a team entering the Olympics in 2016 only slows down the process for the women’s game to challenge more mainstream sports.
Support has been received by the CEO of the British Olympic Association, Andy Hunt, who described the FA as “wrong” for not supporting a women’s football team for Rio 2016, while athletes from other sports have also backed the women.
Javelin thrower Goldie Sayers, a member of Team GB’s athletics squad, tweeted; “Sad to hear FA are unlikely to send a women’s football side to 2016. Those girls are an inspiration to so many youngsters.” Note the last part of that quote – ‘an inspiration to so many youngsters’. Wasn’t that one of the main goals of the Olympics, to ‘inspire a generation’?
One of the main arguments for opposing a men and women’s side in Rio is the fear of harming the footballing sovereignty of the home nations.
This doesn’t seem to get in the way of the British Lions Rugby team coming together, or indeed the British Hockey teams – if it works for some, why not others?
It wouldn’t be fair not to balance this out however, and it must be stressed that unlike the majority of the other sports at the Olympics, the football teams received zero funding from UK Sport.
The FA, therefore, had to plough the money into the setup that allowed for the men and women’s teams to participate in the competition, and without this funding, neither would have been able to enter.
There are also complications surrounding qualification for an Olympic Games. In the women’s game, Europe is represented by the three best performing nations from the previous year’s World Cup. In the case of London, this was cut to two due to Team GB being the third as hosts.
England did qualify for the Beijing games in 2008 after reaching the World Cup quarter-finals in China a year earlier. However, FIFA prevented them from taking their place as they were not allowed to solely represent Great Britain.
And there lies the second major problem. With the four home nations all competing in their own respective fixtures, how would a Great Britain team qualify for Rio?
As demonstrated in 2008, England were forbidden from representing GB as a single nation, but would have been unable to select players from the other home nations because they did not qualify.
There are real complications, therefore, over how Great Britain could one, qualify, and two, select its squad.
Many would love to see Team GB return to the football field in 2016, but with the FA’s support and funding likely to be absent, and the complications over qualification, the future sadly looks bleak.
She Kicks – the online news service for women’s football