In something of a shock, it's being reported that David Beckham will be left off Britain's Olympic team. The 37-year-old will not be among the three players over 23 on the roster—those places will go to Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy, and in Beckham's presumed spot, Micah Richards, who was himself a surprise omission from England's Euro 2012 squad. Beckham's lobbying was instrumental in London being awarded the games in the first place, but this is business.
Beckham released a statement this morning:
"Everyone knows how much playing for my country has always meant to me, so I would have been honored to have been part of this unique Team GB squad. Naturally I am very disappointed, but there will be no bigger supporter of the team than me. And like everyone, I will be hoping they can win the gold."
The move is surely about putting winning over PR, as the criticism's already coming in. Despite Piers Morgan's trolling, no one's going to dispute that Richards offers more on the pitch than Beckham these days. Manager Stuart Pearce has a unique opportunity with a British (rather than English) national team that hasn't existed since 1971.
After the '72 Olympics, for which Team GB didn't qualify, the FA abolished its distinctions between amateurs and professionals, ending the existence of the a national amateur football team, which had always formed the Olympic squad. Though the Olympics allowed professionals to compete starting in 1984, the UK as a whole no longer took part in the qualifying tournament, but rather the separate Home Nations—England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Only now, with the UK hosting the Olympics, does Britain receive an automatic slot in the 16-team field.
So Pearce has one last shot for however many years with a Team GB, at a tournament where no one takes it seriously besides the CONMEBOL nations. Fans will get their nostalgia-bomb from Giggs, and since the UK now can't trot out Beckham as flagbearer, figure he's going to have a big role in the torch-lighting. Everybody's happy.