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(Not sure if this should be on the Sports.SE, but I am looking for a political answer)

The UK competes as separate countries (Scotland, England, Wales, Gibraltar, etc.) at events such as the FIFA world cup, the Rugby world cup, and others. Why? If one's aim is to do well - and I don't see why that wouldn't be the case - then it makes sense to field the strongest possible team. Fielding multiple teams instead means the best players are diluted across them.

For comparison, the US has topped the Olympics medals table for several editions in a row. If the US had instead competed as fifty separate states, they would not be top with anytime near the frequency, if they are ever top at all. (And for some reason the UK competes in the Olympics as one team ...)

I am looking for an answer that explains why the UK doesn't just field one team in all these events with the aim of performing as well as possible.

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  • In the second paragraph you say “ The UK competes as separate countries” but in the 4th paragraph you say “ the UK competes in the Olympics as one team” can you please clarify? – Ekadh Singh Jun 21 at 1:17
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    @EkadhSingh The UK competes in the Olympics as one team, but not at the FIFA world cup, the Rugby world cup, and several other competitions. – Allure Jun 21 at 1:21
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    This has already been answered on sports, I'm not sure if there's a more interesting political angle to this. – JJJ Jun 21 at 1:22
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    @Allure The tactics of "how to win" are not so clear. It may well be better to have 4 entries, rather than one slightly stronger entry. Remember there is a substantial element of "luck" in winning a football match. But questions of how to win in a sport are not a topic for Politics – James K Jun 21 at 5:40
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    The short answer is that the UK loves historical precedent far more than it does winning, and that UK football is a mostly-private association - specifically, four separate associations - rather than a wing of the state. – pjc50 Jun 22 at 7:52
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In a comment the OP makes a point that if Wales win the world cup (unlikely in (association) football, but possible in rugby) then it is only Wales winning, and not the UK.

This is the point. If the UK were to enter a unified team, then it would be the UK winning and not Wales. The national identity in Wales and Scotland is tied to Wales and Scotland, and not to the UK. A Scot (perhaps the proverbial "True Scotsman") doesn't cheer for England, and doesn't cheer a UK team of 10 Englishmen and Gareth Bale. "Anyone but England" as the refrain goes.

The English would dominate the team. The English football fans would see marginal improvement in the chance of winning, but a win would be less satisfying, polluted by the presence of "foreign" players.

For political reasons England, Scotland, Wales, can't send separate teams to the Olympics. The IOC invites only UK representatives. But there is a long tradition of the football teams being permitted separate entries. Indeed, until 2012 the UK didn't enter the football competition at the Olympics, as there was concern that fans would complain, and the separate entries to the FIFA world cup might be lost.

I'm not sure that there is any analogy in other sports, or other countries. Football was invented at English Schools, codified in London, spread to Scotland and Wales, before going on to conquer the world. There are few countries that have the particular structure of the UK: Separate cultures, laws, education, and politically distinct but united. Would the United States welcome the opportunity to field a "North American" team with players from Mexico, Canada, even though probably few actual USAians would make the squad? That team would be very strong, would have a very high chance of winning, but would the fans in the USA actually cheer a team composed of 9 Mexicans and 2 Americans? Would Mexico feel that their wins were devalued by the presence of Americans?

The desire of English football fans is for En-ger-land to win, not Scotland, and not a mixed team. England and Scotland may be parts of the same country, but in football, we are rivals.

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  • If there were an association football competition where each continent sends one team, would England/Scotland/Wales support Team Europe? What if there were a galactic competition - would England/Scotland/Wales support Team Earth? – Allure Jun 22 at 7:51
  • For that matter, did the non-Scottish people of the UK support Andy Murray when he won Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016? – Allure Jun 22 at 7:52
  • 100%. Old rivalries between the "home nations" drive this, plus if we had a UK team it would be mostly an English team which would be seen as a detriment to Welsh and Scottish football development ie less opportunity for their players to appear at the top level. – gingerbreadboy Jun 22 at 7:57
  • in Rugby we do have the super national Test team British & Irish Lions which does transcend the old rivalries somewhat. But The Lions don't play in the regular international calendar, so they don't dilute our opportunity to have a pop at the English ;) – gingerbreadboy Jun 22 at 8:01
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    @Allure Andy Murray is an interesting one. People across the UK tend to be proud of him, but Scotland is always quick to remind us he is Scottish. This is quite common in the UK, the English tend to latch on to non-english British sporting personalities more so than the other nations would. – gingerbreadboy Jun 22 at 8:06
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  • Tradition.
    The UK was strong in rugby and soccer and traditionally fielded regional teams. Changing this might be a political signal, and there is no groundswell to send it. Compare the decisions around the Korean olympic team.

  • Business.
    FIFA is somewhere between a sporting association and a business empire. (Some people might even call it organized crime, considering the endemic corruption problems.) It is in the business of making money and apparently they think that multiple UK teams help making money. If it were ever shown that they hurt the bottom line, they'd be gone ...

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    Yes. If you have teams from Scotland, England, Wales &c, you can sell at least three times as many tickets to British sports fans than if you had just one UK team. – jamesqf Jun 21 at 4:56
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    Minor quibble, the individual sub-uk teams are generally still referred to a national, not regional teams. – Jontia Jun 21 at 7:50
  • @Jontia, calling them nations obscures the OP's concern, why different parts of the United Kingdom go it alone. – o.m. Jun 21 at 15:11

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