Now that the major decision regarding David Beckham's presence on the Great Britian Olympic men’s soccer team has been made, comes the countdown to a really big decision facing the Los Angeles Galaxy, to wit:
If Beckham is picked for a ceremonial duty, such as lighting the Olympic flame at the Opening Ceremonies, does Galaxy coach Bruce Arena give him some time off?
According to Ladbrokes, a British betting company that really does calculate prices and take bets for these things, Beckham is a 5-1 choice to light the flame at the Olympic Stadium, not far from where he grew up in East London. Now comes the thorny problem: if such a request is made to the Galaxy, what does the team decide to do?
Remember he's done a lot of legwork promoting the Games. He had accompanied the Olympic Flame from Athens to Britain and carried it after it was lit. Also remember AEG, operator-investor of the Galaxy, had been discussing a partnership by which it and Tottenham would use the Olympic Stadium after the Games, and that AEG’s purchase of the Millennium Dome in London a decade ago turned a national embarrassment into a lucrative enterprise.
If he can duck out of town for a royal wedding, as he did last year to see Prince William and Kate Middleton exchange vows and adoring looks, and still make it to Dallas in time for a game, why not again?
The soccer competition kicks off July 25, two days before the Opening Ceremonies, which fall on a Friday, a day before the Galaxy plays a road game at FC Dallas. FCD will surely want Beckham present to further the hopes of a sellout, though its dismal form so far this season may be too much even for Becks to overcome. Officials of recently signed jersey sponsor AdvoCare could also weigh in.
Ironically, the chances of him being released could be enhanced by the U.S. failure to qualify, which would have taken Landon Donovan away for at least several weeks to attend a preparation game as well as the actual tournament. Donovan has no conflicts for the Dallas game and so the Galaxy wouldn’t be without two of its Designated Players, only Beckham.
Of course, he and the Galaxy and MLS would be blasted in some quarters for putting exposure and publicity ahead of competitive concerns, but that’s nothing new. Since coming to MLS 5 ½ years ago, his allure and fame have increased awareness of the league exponentially. The lighting of the Olympic cauldron is one of the most iconic moments in sports that is viewed live by hundreds of millions of people around the world, and regenerated countless times in myriad visual mediums.
The royal wedding, though, fell during a more convenient slot in the Galaxy schedule. This year the timing will be tighter.
FCD hosts the Galaxy on a Saturday night rather than the Sunday afternoon of affair last year, significantly squeezing the available hours to get from London to Dallas. He won’t want to disappoint his country, and the easiest solution would be for the Galaxy to excuse him for this game so as to appease him and Sebastian Coe, the former middle-distance runner -- and four-time Olympic medalist -- who is chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games.
“David has been an extraordinary supporter, probably our No. 1 supporter, of the Games from the very beginning and is keen to continue his enthusiastic support right to the end,” said Coe.
“He really gets this. He is from East London and knows how important the Games and sport are to young people. He is a great role model and we are lucky to have such an advocate. I will be talking to him about a Games time role.”
Beckham apparently lost out to former Manchester United teammate Ryan Giggs, as well as Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards, for an over-age slot on the Great Britain team. His age, 37, and declining abilities surely played a role in a decision made for competitive reasons by Coach Stuart Pearce, who can only select 18 players including the three age exemptions.
So now Beckham and the Galaxy and the Olympic organizers are in a tricky spot, juggling marketing concerns with those of his soccer team. Is he the best choice, and if chosen, how should the league and his team handle it?