By Andrew Warshaw at Westminster

Kelly_Smith_in_England_kitApril 26 - Sport and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson waded into the Olympic football row today by warning that the women's game would lose out most if there is no unified UK team.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still refusing to participate in next year's games for fear of losing their national identities, and Robertson brought the issue back to the top of the agenda when he gave evidence to the Parliamentary inquiry into football governance.

Robertson said he would be trying his level best to convince politicians from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that they need not be worried about any perceived negative consequences.

"I will try to persuade my counterparts of what FIFA have said, which is that there is no threat to their independence by contributing to a Great Britain team," he told fellow MPs.

Britain has not fielded a men's team in the Olympics, primarily an under-23 event, since 1972 because of the rapid advance of professionalism, but as hosts next year the UK has an automatic berth open to them.

Women's football, while hugely popular in the United States, Germany and Scandinavia, has far less of a profile in Britain and Robertson said the women's game could miss a vital opportunity if there is no unified team at 2012.

"Strangely enough, the greatest losers if we are unable to get over the line on this one will be women's football which would get an unbelievable showcase through London 2012 in a way that it doesn't always get otherwise," he said.

"My job as Sports Minister is to make sure every young athlete, whether male or female, gets the best possible chance to represent their country.

"The pity about some of the politics going on around this team GB business will not make an iota of difference in terms of FIFA.

"It will simply deny the opportunity to compete in the London games to men and women born in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

"That's a very great shame, if it was in my means to stop this, I would."

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