Stuart Bathgate: All that glistens in football is not Olympic gold

IN a week which saw growing worries about the problems which will be caused by fielding a Great Britain football team at London 2012, the most succinct and telling comment came from Neil Lennon. “My view is that football is not an Olympic sport,” the Celtic manager said.

If only the International Olympic Committee had taken the same view some years ago, life would be a lot easier over the coming months. Instead, scores of Scottish players both male and female, will have to weigh up conflicting factors before deciding whether to accept invitations to be on the long list for the Team GB squad.

Of course, there are historical factors which make the existence of a Team GB particularly fraught with difficulties, and players from other countries will face no similar wrangle between their ambitions and their consciences before deciding if they want to take part in the London Games. But that is no consolation to our own players, and you can’t help thinking that they are being unnecessarily put through the whole thing by the expansionist ambitions of the IOC. The governing body may want the Olympics to expand until they’re the size of Mr Creosote, but by so doing they are risking the special character of the four-yearly event. Football does not need the Olympics: nor, for that matter, does tennis, which will also be included in London, or rugby and golf, which are not in the 2012 Games but will be included in Rio de Janeiro four years later.

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Football has the World Cup and the various continental championships; rugby has a similar set-up; tennis and golf have their four majors every year. Each of those events is more important than the Olympic tournament is (in the case of football and tennis), or will be (in the case of rugby and golf). Conversely, an Olympic gold medal is the pinnacle of achievement in every other sport on the programme, including its two cornerstones, athletics and swimming.

That should be the question we ask when thinking about including a sport in the Games: will an Olympic medal be valued above all others? And the answer, in the case of football, has to be a resounding no.