Could Team GB women’s football team have medalled in Rio?

Emily Magee rues a missed opportunity for a GB women’s team at the Rio Olympics.

With a scheduled break in the FA Women’s Super League, all eyes have turned to the Rio Olympics in recent weeks.

And, many are wondering why Great Britain’s football teams aren’t competing at the games.

After England finished an impressive third place at the Women’s World Cup last year, the Lionesses would have hoped to ride the wave from that tournament straight into winning an Olympic medal, alongside team mates from the home nations.

But, that wasn’t meant to be. A lack of support from the Home Nations meant the FA formally withdrew its proposal to send a Team GB side to Rio. With FIFA proposing that an entry from Great Britain would not be sanctioned until full approval was given from all four home nations. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all opposed the entry.

The main issue in this situation is progression. The exposure the women’s game received coming off the back of the Women’s World Cup was massive for women’s football in this country and especially for youth development and participation. To have a women’s football team at the Olympics would have continued the forward movement and impacted the FA Women’s Super League greatly.

According to The FA, the WSL 1 experienced a 40% uplift after the Women’s World Cup, with attendances per match increasing from 728 in 2014 to 1,076 for the 2015 season.

With 2015 being a landmark year for women’s football in the UK, the Rio Olympics was an opportunity for further development.

Kelly Simmons, the former Head of Women’s football at The FA has called Great Britain’s absence from the Olympics a devastating blow for the women’s game.

I recently spoke to Simmons to discuss the impact of the World Cup, she said: “Our job is very much to maintain and build on the big uplift in interest and crowd numbers after the tournament. It takes women’s football to new audiences so we’re absolutely thrilled with the viewing figures.”

England’s success in reaching the semi-finals at the World Cup would have guaranteed Great Britain a place at the games, taking one of the European slots alongside Germany and France.

Even before their World Cup success, the Lionesses knew they would not be competing at the games and manager Mark Sampson has claimed that Great Britain could have won Olympic gold.

Sampson said: “This group of players earned the right to go to an Olympics and I think the most frustrating thing is not only have they not been given the opportunity to become Olympians, but I’ve watched the tournament, and I believe this team would have won the gold medal.”

Sweden, the team who replaced Team GB in the tournament, have made it all the way to the final.

Interestingly, there are no teams remaining in the tournament that finished above England at the World Cup last year. The United States Women’s National Team, who were crowned World champions the previous summer, were knocked out by the Swedes in a shock quarter-final defeat. Whilst Japan, who finished second, didn’t even qualify for the Rio Olympics.

In comparison, Germany – the team England beat in the Bronze medal match in Canada – will compete for a gold medal on Friday at the Maracanã.

We will always look back and think what could have been. But I believe if circumstances were different and Great Britain had been given the chance to compete, they would have had a sizeable opportunity at making the rostrum.

With this all said and done, England will no doubt be looking ahead to their next major tournament. Euro 2017 takes place next summer and the Lionesses will be looking to relish their big moment in the public eye and prove they are the best in Europe.

Follow Emily at @Egmagee

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