Taylor: Olympic soccer ripe for ridicule

June 30, 2011, 1:45 a.m.

Of all the memorable sights and sounds that the Olympics will bring to London next year, one of the strangest might be a British soccer team.

It might sound odd that the island that brought this sport to the world–and that holds three Olympic gold medals–has not competed in the men’s competition since 1956 and has never entered a team in the women’s. But so are the complexities of international sports.

To play in the Olympics, teams must usually qualify in earlier tournaments: in Europe, for example, this consists of the UEFA Under-21 Championship, and even to reach that tournament, European teams must have succeeded in an earlier group stage. Not only would the Home Nations (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) have to unite to compete in the Games, but they would have to do this several years beforehand in order to pass through all the qualification stages. Next year, however, is an exception: as host, the U.K. might enter a team or athlete in every sport, regardless of the usual rules.

But life is never quite that easy. Only the English FA supports the idea, with the other three football associations rejecting it on principle. Just broaching the subject seems dangerous, since apart from the technical difficulties of how to form such a team, there is the question of whether membership should be based purely on merit (potentially making the team almost exclusively English) or on a quota system (that could be detrimental to the team and clearly unfair). It raises the unthinkable prospect of the four nations losing their historical privilege and being forced to play together in other international tournaments. That would be something like the MLB deciding there are too many baseball franchises on the East Coast and making the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees join forces.

As an English fan, I too am completely against the idea. Not only does a British soccer team make no sense, but–if I’m being really, really honest–soccer has no place in the Olympics. The Games should be the biggest event in any sport that gets to grace its stage, and in comparison to the World Cup, an Olympic gold medal is just a consolation prize.

So what should we do?

There might just be a way to please everyone–at least everyone in the U.K., that is–and take soccer back to its roots. With a guaranteed ticket, we can surely select anyone we want, so why pick professionals? Few locals will show much more than a passing interest in the soccer tournament, and should a professional British team reach the final, many may dread the implications of a positive result.

But if the team was entirely made up of randomly selected amateurs and chosen not on the basis of skill but on enthusiasm (and passing a basic fitness test), things would surely be different. If millions will tune in to watch reality TV, surely reality sport can capture a similar audience.

And it would be the perfect response to the bigwigs of international sport, particularly soccer. Not only would it highlight the pointlessness of Olympic soccer–whose tournament will take place a few short days after the climax of the far more globally significant UEFA Euro 2012 Championship–and the fact that the sport deflects much needed attention away from far more deserving Olympics activities, but would also be a rejection of the status quo, a protest vote that all is not well in the world of soccer.

While disputed by the major governing bodies, it is a generally accepted fact that the wishes of corporations have been put far ahead of those of real fans. Within the beautiful game itself, money rules far more than anything else. The gulf between the top teams and those just a few league positions below them seems unbridgeable, and perhaps the only possibility of crossing between these two worlds comes from the intervention of an oil-rich sheikh (for teams ascending) or finally succumbing to the backbreaking debt they have accrued (for teams descending).

The stars are paid salaries that are so phenomenally huge that I can’t even think of an adjective offensive enough to describe them. Even in times of plenty, these pay packages would astound fans; now, deep in the global economic crisis brought upon us by our best financial minds, they make even less sense. We paid the brightest economists and bankers fantastical bonuses, and they destroyed our system; maybe there is a moral there.

Perhaps it’s time to give the amateurs a chance to teach the pros a lesson or two.

Tom Taylor, after missing out on tickets to the Games, is willing to embarrass himself on the soccer field if it means he could actually make an appearance. Bring him back to Earth at tom.taylor “at” stanford.edu.

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