THE alarm bells that have been ringing in Scotland since the proposal to send a British football team to the 2012 Olympics increased in volume when the former Fifa vice-president, David Will, claimed that the world governing body's assurances over the future independence of the four home nations could not be trusted.
Will's suspicion echoes the sentiments of the former Scotland manager, Craig Brown, who is championing a petition of the Scottish Parliament, urging MSPs to be active in the matter of preserving the national team's status by exerting influence on Fifa and the Gordon Brown-led Westminster government. The petition, which can be accessed at the Parliament's official website, closes tomorrow.
Craig Brown's opposition to the so-called Team GB is deep-rooted and immovable, his conviction that Fifa cannot be relied upon deriving from his experiences during eight years in charge of Scotland and on his relationship with a number of administrators, including Will, with sound knowledge of how the international association operates.
Brown revealed yesterday that he first became involved in the campaign against a British team when he was contacted by Margo MacDonald, a long-time friend.
"Margo and I have known each other since our schooldays together," said Brown, "and she asked to get involved in the opposition to the proposal for a British team. I said I wouldn't get involved in politics, but if it was purely a football matter, I would be very glad to help out. So we got the petition organised and I'm hopeful that will have an impact.
"I am utterly convinced that a British team at the Olympics in London will bring Scotland the thin end of the wedge, that we could lose our autonomy as a footballing nation. The people in England who are campaigning for a Team GB seem not to realise that the end of the home nations' independence would impinge on them, too. They appear not to be the least bit concerned with the consequences.
"The simple fact is that I don't trust Fifa. David Will sent me a letter of support and he confirms my own unease. David was a vice-president for 20 years at Fifa and continues as an honorary vice-president. He knows better than anyone how they go about their business.
"As he says, it's not enough for the current president, Sepp Blatter, and the Secretary General, Jerome Valcke, that a one-off combined team at the Olympics would not jeopardise the future existence of the four British associations. The thing is, it's not within their powers to guarantee this.
"As David says, such a decision could only be taken by the 208 members of Fifa at the annual congress. And, like him, I'm not convinced that we could depend on a vote in our favour, even from all the European associations. They have their own agendas."
Like the majority of football observers north of the Border – with virtual unanimity amongst fans – Brown is convinced that the entire issue is hardly worthy of debate, since football at the Olympics is not only a minority sport, but an under-23 tournament, the only event at the games with an upper age limit for competitors.
"It's basically a Mickey Mouse tournament," said Brown. "It's gained some kudos in recent years because countries such as Argentina and Brazil are able to send teams that include exceptional players who are already established internationals and are world renowned, even at under-23 level. The best recent example would be Lionel Messi of Argentina.
"But, in the main, it's a nothing tournament, which Britain couldn't even qualify for unless they were hosts. The route to qualification is to finish in the top five of the European under-21 championship. Scotland would actually have qualified twice in the 1990s, as we were third in Europe on both occasions. But, of course, there's no Scotland team at the Olympics. There's no England team, either, even if they 'qualified'. So, this is a one-off simply because London is the venue, and that makes it even less worthy of all the bother."
Brown's and Will's comments were made the day after Sir Alex Ferguson distanced himself from the possibility of taking charge of the British team. The Manchester United manager had been approached by the Olympics organiser, Sebastian Coe, but made it clear that he would not be interested. Ferguson shares the widespread unease over the future independence of Scotland.
"I don't think there's any doubt about the opposition in Scotland," said Brown. "I've been at three meetings of different branches of the Tartan Army and it was made perfectly plain that every single one of them was against the idea. It really is something we should have nothing to do with."