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1982 World Cup pull-out considered
The British government considered pulling out of the 1982 World Cup as war broke out with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, newly released documents reveal.
In the aftermath of Argentina's invasion of the Falklands, sports governing bodies were urged to pull out of competitions with Argentinian teams both in England and in Argentina.
But despite the directive from sports minister Neil Macfarlane, it remained undecided whether British nations should pull out of the 1982 football World Cup, England's first in 12 years.
Files released to the National Archives in Kew show that cabinet ministers debated withdrawing from the World Cup, due to start on June 13 in Spain that year, but feared the decision would be used as Argentinian propaganda.
In April 1982 Mr Macfarlane wrote to the Sports Council, saying: "I urge no sporting contact with Argentina at representative, club or individual level on British soil. This policy applies equally to all sporting fixtures in Argentina."
According to the file, concerns spread to the impending World Cup tournament in Spain. Although neither England, Scotland or Northern Ireland were due to play in the same qualifying group as cup holders Argentina, there were worries that Scotland could meet them in the second round and England could come up against them in the final. Some leading players were said to have implied they would find it "difficult to meet Argentina on a sports field" if fighting was continuing, but the British ambassador in Madrid advised that any withdrawal would be "interpreted as a slight on Spain, not a statement about Argentina".
On May 11 Mr Macfarlane wrote to Margaret Thatcher, saying: "Up until a week or 10 days ago I have taken the line that it was up to the football authorities to decide whether they should participate. However, the loss of British life on HMS Sheffield and Sea Harriers has had a marked effect on some international footballers and some administrators. They feel revulsion at the prospect of playing in the same tournament as Argentina at this time. Much has appeared in the sporting pages and much more will appear the longer these hostilities continue."
The Brazilian president of international football governing body Fifa made it clear that Argentina would not be pressured to withdraw from the World Cup, he said. On May 17 1982 cabinet secretary Robert Armstrong wrote to the prime minister before a paper was presented by the sports minister, to be followed by cabinet discussions.
"Ministers will be able to assess the strength of public and Parliamentary feeling on this issue, which will be seen as quite different from that of the Moscow Olympic Games following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan," he said. "In this case no other country would follow us in withdrawing from the World Cup. Argentina would see British withdrawal not as putting any pressure on them but as an opportunity to make propaganda: the United Kingdom, not Argentina, would be the country set apart."
None of the home nations pulled out of the tournament, which was won by Italy. The England team was knocked out in the second round, Scotland in the first round, and Northern Ireland in the second round. In August that year, after the end of the conflict, restrictions were lifted on sporting engagements with Argentina.