World Cup 2022. England, Great Britain, Great Britain… which team for which sport?

In football: separate nations only

Of all team sports, soccer is the one that divides the British the most. England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland… each nation that makes up the United Kingdom has its own national team.

The reason ? Football is far from being the globalized sport that it is today at the time of its creation. It is structured around various federations, not all created at the same time, while its distribution does not yet extend beyond the borders of the United Kingdom. It was thus in 1863 that the Football Association (FA), which governs English football. It took ten years for the Scottish Football Association (1873) to be founded, followed by the Football Association of Wales (1876) and finally the Irish Football Association (1880).

It should be noted that the split between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (which remains attached to the English Crown) dates back to the early 1920s. At that time, the Republic of Ireland established its Football Association, which becomes independent from the Football Association of Ireland.

From then on, the four nations are still separate, despite pressure from FIFA, who wanted to unite the teams under the same flag after the Second World War. In 1958 England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all four participated in the World Cup.

In rugby, everyone is at home… but a united Ireland

In rugby, the national teams are structured quite similarly… except that Northern Ireland is attached to the rest of the island. Sociological reasons explain this difference. Rugby, in the first half of the XXe century, is a sport that unites more Protestants than Catholics. Thus, in the 1920s this sport did not represent a major problem in the eyes of the authorities of the new Republic of Ireland, who accepted that it remained administered by the authorities in Belfast.

Thus, until today, Ireland has always been united in rugby.

Cricket brings together English and Welsh

We don’t think much of sport on our side of the channel, but cricket is one of the most watched in the UK. In this sport of very ancient origins, Ireland (United) and Scotland both have their own national teams. However, this is not the case for Wales, who are in the English team.

Historically there was actually a team from Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) until 1994 when Scotland got their national team. This is not the case for Wales, although its status continues to be debated on a recurring basis in cricketing bodies.

At the Olympics and in the Davis Cup, Great Britain includes … Northern Ireland

At the Olympics, England is not recognized as a nation. It is therefore a team from “Great Britain and Northern Ireland” that is presented, regardless of the sport. This official name is surprising as Great Britain and Northern Ireland form… the United Kingdom.

Thus Scottish, Welsh or even Northern Irish players can mix with the English to form the Olympic team, even in football or rugby sevens. Which is not always the easiest in terms of cohesion.

In tennis… like at the Olympics

Finally, in tennis, for the Davis Cup in particular, players from the United Kingdom are also all united under the Great Britain banner, regardless of their nationality. The best-known example is the Scotsman Andy Murray, winner of the Cup in 2015 with Great Britain. However, the tabloids, who were often praised for his career successes by the English press, do not hesitate to remember his Scottish nationality as soon as he loses.

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