Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hamlet without the Prince

OK so we're a bit short of material so let's go to the last refuge of the blogger -- soccer. It's been announced that the football associations of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland have agreed to play a "Celtic Cup" in a league format beginning in 2009. We should be thankful it's not called the Braveheart Cup. It doesn't take long to spell out why it's an atrocious idea. It's only being considered because all four teams, and England, failed to qualify for the European Championship next year in Austria-Switzerland, and the idea was apparently finalised over a few too many bottles of nice South African wine in Durban (since all the associations were there for the world cup qualifying draw).

Yet England, notwithstanding the tentative support of Gordon Brown for the idea, have wisely backed out of making it an Islands Cup. If you've all fallen short of international standards by failing to qualify for a benchmark tournament, you don't raise quality by playing each other. And most of all, the Celtic rivalries are not natural ones. The key feature of the similar tournament in rugby is that even when one of the teams is terrible, there's always the chance of beating the Sassanaigh -- who won't be in this one. With a bit of luck, there'll be one tournament in 2009 and then one or more of the teams will have qualified for the World Cup in 2010 and won't want to play it again. Note also that more serious ideas, such as merging the football associations in the north and the republic, are not being considered.

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