Team GB hard sell can't hide Olympic football shortcomings

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London should be a pretty busy city this summer by all accounts. The arrival of the 30th modern Olympic games to England’s capital will bring with it more than 10,000 athletes, a 200,000-strong workforce and 8.8 million ticket-holders who will attend numerous venues across the 16 days of sport-filled action.


According to estimates, more than a billion people will tune their televisions to watch the opening ceremony taking place at Stratford’s Olympic Park on July 27 – but for a small, select group of men, the games will begin 24 hours earlier with little of the fanfare and razzle dazzle of a £40 million party.


Team GB, as they will be pompously known as throughout the tournament, get the games up and running on July 26 at Old Trafford - a day after the Team GB women’s side - as they open their campaign to win gold while the main focus of the watching world lies little under 200 miles away in east London.


Even on the day that the men’s football tournament gets underway, more than 120 world leaders will be arriving in London while the Olympic torch arrives in central London as the city goes into a ‘security lockdown.’


With the help of a strange trio of ball-drawers, namely fat Ronaldo, Mel C and Robbie Savage, who were overseen by a bored-looking Gary Lineker at today's draw for the tournament, Team GB will come up against the United Arab Emirates, Senegal and perhaps the hardest task on offer at this summer’s tournament; Uruguay, in Group A.


They get their campaign underway at Old Trafford against Senegal on July 26, before taking on UAE at Wembley three days later ahead of their final, and potentially decisive group encounter against Uruguay.


Elsewhere in the draw, Brazil look almost certain progress to the knock-out stages after being drawn against Egypt, Belarus and New Zealand in Group C, while Group B sees Mexico, South Korea, Gabon and Switzerland drawn together.


The final group of the tournament sees Spain as the seeded side drawn against Japan, Honduras and Morocco.


16 days after the men’s tournament opener at Old Trafford, a new Olympic champion will be crowned – reigning champions Argentina failed to qualify for the games - but before then plenty of questions remain over the validity of a tournament which is yet to capture the public’s imagination.


The polished, if somewhat staid, veneer of today’s draw was in stark contrast to the formation of Team GB, which is still struggling with its identity as three of the four home nation Football Associations drag their feet, while ticket sales have been far from rapid for the tournament in general.


Some, such as 400m hurdles runner Dai Greene, have questioned whether football should even be at the Games, given how far away from the Olympic ideals the modern game sits and how much it could detract from other disciplines. 


In a year heavily saturated with football, namely the climax of the Premier League and Champions League, along with the European Championships that take place just before the Olympics (thus robbing it of many leading players), selling the tournament has proved at times a difficult task.

If there was ever any evidence required that the Olympic football tournament has been shoe-horned into a narrow gap - Just a week after the Gold medal final, 2012/13 Premier League seaosn begins once more.

2.3 million tickets were available for both the women and men’s’ football tournaments (representing a sizeable portion of the overall total of 8.8 million on offer for the games), with Locog chief executive Paul Deighton revealing that "almost a million” had been sold, leaving around 1.5 million remaining unsold.


While the likely inclusion of David Beckham in the Team GB squad will certainly help put bums on seats, and the presence of a talented Brazilian squad should help, games like South Korea v Gabon in Group B at Wembley will be a very tough sell indeed.


The draw however marks the start of promotion and marketing campaign designed to sell the tournament to an audience growing weary with the deluge of football.


"It is important to note that the draws take place tomorrow at Wembley Stadium and that is critical to our next push in getting those tickets into the hands of the football-loving public in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world,” said David Luckes, the sporting director of LOCOG said on Monday.


“As we don't know yet which teams are playing at which venues, people don't yet know what match they are going to go to, but the fact we have already sold a million tickets is a very good position and we are confident we can sell the remainder of those tickets."


However what will likely happen is the increased demand to see brand Beckham at the Olympics will mean exorbitant prices to attend those games with a few hardy souls may make it to see the lesser games for a cheaper price.


Manchester United are already on the bandwagon, offering hospitality tickets to England’s opening match at Old Trafford from as little as ‘£99’ including, very generously, ‘a carved sandwich’. Not exactly the epitome of the Olympics spirit.


Pearce has already more or less confirmed that Beckham will be part of his squad of 18 including three over-23's having revealed he will travel to America to speak to the former Manchester United midfielder.

While Lord Sebastian Coe’s assertion that Pearce is free to pick whom he desires may be an honest answer, there is little doubt Pearce is aware of the need to select his sqaud on more than footballing merit both in terms of marketing and appeal.


Of course, for a long time there was doubt over whether Pearce would be able to call upon players from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – a potentially crucial aspect in selling an event so heavily focused on London to the entire British Isles where other events will take place.


“The bid was very clear – to, where possible, enshrine the Games not only in London but throughout the UK. We are a football loving nation,” said Coe after the draw.


In the face of cynicism from Scotland in particular over the team, Coe may well find it impossible to fill up Glasgow’s Hampden Park, especially with Team GB not going north of the border - Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan has even warned that Scotland's Olympic football hopefuls could suffer the wrath of the Tartan Army if they turn out for Team GB.


The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish FA are still yet to give their full blessing to use their players in the Olympics over seemingly misplaced fears that it could affect their independence despite reassurances from FIFA otherwise, although in reality there is little they can do with Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Steven Fletcher already breaking ranks to declare their interest in represent Great Britain.


The Welsh FA have backed down ever-so-slightly in their approach having previously issued a joint-statement over the issue which highlighted theirs, Scotland’s and Northern Ireland’s ‘strong opposition to Team GB participation’.


Now they suggest that involvement in the Olympics is the player’s ‘personal choice' with no punishment should the likes of Bale and Ramsey take part.


Less than 100 days remain until the official unveiling of the London Olympics and the beginning of a football tournament that is designed to capture the imagination of the masses of British football fans that would otherwise remain only vaguely interested.


Not since 1960 have a Great Britain team represented the home nations at an Olympics, while the return of a team for these Isles will mark 100 years since they last picked up the gold medal.


It has so far been an uneasy reincarnation of Team GB, while there remains a long way to go before the tournament can be considered a success from both a ticketing point of view and also in appealing to audiences around the country.


The Olympic football tournament faces a tough battle for publicity and attention in an already crammed schedule. It is real danger of becoming the elephant in the Olympic Park.

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