No doubt David Beckham is enormously upset not to have been selected to play for Team GB at the Olympic Games football finals in London in a month’s time. He has been a focused competitor all his career and merely accepting the decision by coach Stuart Pearce would be out of character.
But the decision to pick a squad to go for gold – for the first time since Olympic antiquity– is an acknowledgment of the credibility of Olympic football which had been thrown into some doubt by the game-playing of the three non-English associations.
The original premise behind claiming hosts’ dispensation to a direct seeding into the finals was that no-one would understand if the national sport were not represented at the London 2012. In fact, the inevitable wrangling over team selection has damaged the image of football at the Games, unfortunately and unfairly.
Football is the oldest Olympic team sport, having commanded a formal slot at every Games since 1908 – the first London hosting – with the exception of Los Angeles in 1932.
Baron Pierre De Coubertin, founder of the modern Games, wanted the ‘youth of the world’ to compete in his vision and football, with basically an under-23 tournament, meets exactly that criteria; not for football the long-in-the-tooth competitors from all those other sports outshone in their totality by football in terms of public popularity worldwide.
Football also meets the Olympic organizers’ terms of being able to raise both men’s and women’s quality tournaments.
Beckham confirmed his non-selection in a brief statement issued, apparently and surprisingly, to the American Associated Press agency rather than to the British Press Association.
In it, he said: “Everyone knows how much playing for my country has always meant to me, so I would have been honored to have been part of this unique Team GB squad. Naturally I am very disappointed, but there will be no bigger supporter of the team than me. And like everyone, I will be hoping they can win the gold.”
Beckham had contributed significantly to the London bid and subsequent PR efforts but it would have been impossible to justify his selection for the squad on sporting grounds. The only caveat concerns his inclusion in the ‘long lists’ which will be seen, if cynically, as a ploy to assist ticket sales. Doubtless Pearce would deny that fiercely.
If Team GB are to win gold, they must play six matches in two weeks, a heavy schedule for young players, never mind ‘golden oldies.’ This is a reason why Team GB will be one of only a few gambling on use of the right to select three over-age players.
Fancied Brazil and England’s group rivals Uruguay will also probably be among the exceptions.
Further, the maximum size of a squad is 18 players, not the 23 available in senior football tournaments such as the World Cup and European Championship. Hence an inbuilt risk in selecting older players more at risk of injury against young teams who, whatever they may lack in experience, will match skill and ambition with high energy levels.