While it happens every couple of years in golf's Ryder Cup, most members of the teams qualify automatically; and this summer, Stuart Pearce had a taste of it with his Great Britain football team, but was restricted by age limitations not to mention all sorts of politics. In rugby, we have the occasional one-off select match.
Every four years, however, someone is handed the keys to the biggest sporting toyshop available to any coach when they are put in charge of the British and Irish Lions and, this time around, the New Zealander Warren Gatland is the lucky man.
As we have been reminded by all involved, the Lions are just about the most valuable brand in rugby. Some of us, however, have grave reservations about the Lions as a product.
Personally, I find it mildly ridiculous that what is created is an artificial contest in which a Lions squad that must be, man for man, superior to the opposition – the best of four of the world's top-10 teams are pitted against one of the others – are so under-prepared that they rarely beat the New Zealanders or South Africans, and even lost to the Australians the last time they faced them.
A colleague has, meanwhile, long pushed the view, quite rightly in my opinion, that Lions tours provide the Southern Hemisphere nations with a double benefit because of the psychological advantage beating a select from the four home unions gives them two years ahead of Rugby World Cups.
None of that matters, though, because the nature of the rugby public is that this is viewed as the biggest sporting party of them all, with spectators in their tens of thousands buying up packages to watch some rugby.
That, in turn, means big business which, for all the guff about romance and history, is the real reason that the Lions, which should have been as much of an anachronism in the professional age as the Barbarians, has instead been marketed to previously unimagined levels by the seven unions involved. That is where spectators are concerned but, where coaches and players are concerned, it is another matter.
For those in the Southern Hemisphere, the fact that the Lions visit each of the three countries on a four-yearly basis means there is only a once in a lifetime opportunity to face them.
For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the attraction is knowing that, having achieved what would normally be considered the ultimate – representing their country – it is an even greater honour to be selected among those considered the best from four national teams.
Announced in the week after the RaboDirect Pro12 got under way, Gatland's appointment adds an extra dimension to an already pressurised season for Scotland's players, the majority of whom play in that competition.
It would probably not be going too far to say that the attitude of Lions coaches towards Scotland players has, in the past decade and more, been close to contemptuous. It has been hard to argue against it, given the performances of the national team over that period.
Yet the most successful Lions tours – only four of the main Test series have been won: against New Zealand in 1971, South Africa in 1974 and '97 and Australia in '89 – have had major Scottish influences, a point that Andy Irvine, the tour manager, will doubtless be making to his head coach.
Encouragingly for the Scots, Gatland, the sole selector, has this week described his highlight of the summer tours – in which England drew with the Springboks, Wales pushed the Wallabies in all three Tests and Ireland came close to defeating the All Blacks in one of theirs – as being Scotland's wins in their three Tests against Australia, Fiji and Samoa.
Since Gatland will remain in charge of Wales until the autumn Tests, the Scots who were involved have an early-season opportunity to catch the Lions coach's eye.
Few did much to enhance their prospects on the opening weekend of the Pro12 as matches that Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh should have won were lost.
Players will deny that it is a consideration but, for the relatively few obvious Scottish contenders – as well as England-based Richie Gray, they include Warriors John Barclay, Chris Cusiter and the currently injured Stuart Hogg, along with Edinburgh's Ross Rennie, Dave Denton, Ross Ford and Tim Visser – there is additional reason to encourage their team-mates to do more to help them become Lionised.