The continued existence of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football teams is "likely" to come under scrutiny if Scotland votes no to political independence on September 18th. On that date, the people of Scotland will decide whether to become an independent nation outside the United Kingdom.
The ramifications, of course, extend way beyond football but according to a FIFA spokesman talking to Mark Hirst of the Russia news agency RIA Novosti, a "No" vote could affect the continued existence of the Scotland team.
Although England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as independent nations in soccer, politically they are still one entity, known as the United Kingdom or more colloquially (though inaccurately) Britain.
The anomaly goes back to the crucial role the four independent football associations played in the early and formative years of the game. Under FIFA Statutes Article 10, subsection 5:
"Each of the four British associations is recognised as a separate Member of FIFA."
It is an anomaly that has its opponents, especially in Africa and Asia who also resent the automatic seat given to one representative of the four home nations on the FIFA Executive Committee.
Even more galling to them perhaps, all four home associations have an automatic seat on the eight man IFAB, the International Football Association Board which controls the Laws of the Game.
There is a however a clamour to abolish the Scotland national side far closer to Hampden Park, Scotland's national stadium on the south side of Glasgow. There is a sizeable minority in England who would like to see a UK national team at football, a minority which seems to get louder when England are playing badly. Normally they are ignored as a sideshow. But these are not normal times.
Football has so far managed to remain surprisingly outside or at least on the fringe of the fervent debate around the vote. An article on the Russian news agency RIA Novosti may change that.
Advocates of an all Britain team now see another opportunity to advance their case and it isn't England's miserable performance in the 2014 World Cup that is the catalyst. It's the vote on independence.
Laurence Robertson, the Conservative MP for Tewkesbury, a pretty and affluent town in the English county of Gloucestershire, has raised the matter again as the vote on independence approaches.
He told RIA Novosti:
"If there is a 'Yes' vote then obviously Scotland will keep their own football team and the rest of the UK will presumably continue to send individual teams.
"If it's 'No', the matter comes back to the table and FIFA may well get involved. I remain convinced that there should be one football team for the UK, or for what's left of the UK after the Scottish vote."
This is not Robertson's first attempt to abolish the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sides.
In early July he tabled a motion in the UK Parliament, outlining his view that Britain should be one team, To his credit, he did not try to hide the connection between England's failure and his proposal:
Laurence Robertson's Full *Early Day Motion:
This House notes with regret England’s early exit from the 2014 World Cup; recalls that England has not won the World Cup since 1966; further notes that on three occasions since 1966 England has failed to qualify for the World Cup Finals at all; notes that Scotland has only qualified for eight World Cup Finals out of a total of 20, that Northern Ireland has only qualified for three and Wales has only qualified for one, in 1958; believes that fielding four teams from the United Kingdom reduces the chances of success and has denied World Cup opportunities to outstanding British players; observes that no other nation fields more than one national team; and calls upon the football authorities in each of the Home countries to come together and form one national football team covering the UK.
*An EDM is a formal motion submitted for debate in the House of Commons although very few are actually debated.
It has to be stated that the UK Parliament does not have the authority to abolish the three other national sides, only FIFA does, but chillingly for the Tartan Army, Northern Ireland's Green and White Army and all soccer loving Welshmen, Robertson is not alone.
RIA Novosti did their homework and spoke to a FIFA Spokesman who said:
"If Scotland votes No then you're going to see that debate [about the UK pitching four teams] erupt again. There is going to be real pressure to have that UK disparity finally dealt with. In the wake of a No vote many of the countries envious of the UK's special footballing status would see this as a perfect opportunity,"
"The UK’s "special status" - of allowing the four home nations of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to compete separately in international competitions - was likely to come under review in the event of a No vote.
Not even ardent nationalists in Scotland are arguing against the inevitable logic of the case.
Jim Sillars is a veteran nationalist known for speaking his mind whether his party approves or not. He told RIA Novosti:
"I would regret it, but there is bound to be questions asked by other countries about the position of the four home countries if Scotland votes to remain in political team GB."
Postal ballots were sent out earlier this week and those voters have begun to make their choice.
In the second part of this article, we'll look at how the members of FIFA might react to a renewed attempt to abolish individual representation of the three home countries, and how the four home nations are represented in other sports including the row over the British soccer team at the London Olympics.
That row over Team GB might prove to be a forerunner of what is to come if the people of Scotland reject independence on the 18th. as all polls indicate they will.