The Beijing Olympics are now a month away including the Under 23’s Olympic football tournament to be held at different venues in China. While many people may think otherwise, it is actually a tournament with a lot of history and with a lot of purpose. Firstly, what many people don’t know is that the Olympic tournament was the first international football tournament, the World Cup was created afterwards and was largely the result of the success of this Olympic tournament. Secondly, the Olympic tournament provides teams (and fans alike) with a good indication as to how teams are shaping up for the next 2 World Cups.
As the result of the creation of the World Cup, the Olympic tournament has over the years become devalued, and FIFA has contributed to this by imposing age restrictions and other types of controls. All of which is perfectly understandable, given that you would want to damage the prestige of the World Cup.
Presently, only players below the age of 23 can take part and this was done in order to reflect other FIFA youth tournaments such as the under 20’s and under 17’s. Notwithstanding, FIFA permits teams to have 3 overage players if they choose to. Many are of the opinion, including he who write this, that this is completely unrequired and does not comply with the objectives of such a tournament.
Now, before everyone starts writing their responses to this article, let?s analyse the reasons behind the creation of this rule as well as what it (supposedly) contributes and what it has (supposedly) contributed.
The overage player rule has generated controversy since it was introduced along with the under 23 rule in 1992 even though it was a move to give an equal chance to all teams. The problem lies with the overage players and whether they should be allowed to participate in the Olympics.
If money talks, then the participation of overage players is justified. Such players tend to be well recognised professionals such as Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi and basically guarantee widespread coverage of the tournament, that it wouldn’t get otherwise. Apart from the financial side of things, the presence of overage players gives a boost to young players to any team and this could be just what they need to become experienced and confident players. Both players and coaches certainly love the overage player rule.
Nevertheless, under the lure of TV money and satisfied coaches, FIFA seems to have forgotten the roots of its youth tournaments. Now, the Olympic tournament may not be a youth tournament in the traditional sense of the word. Nobody seems to connect the word youth with a 22 year old player. But it is essentially a youth tournament when compared to the World Cup which is open to any and every age.
The fundamental feature of any youth tournament is the idea that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, meaning that if you don’t grab it the first time, you’ll never again have the chance to try again. Both the Under 17 and 20 world championships are just like that and all players know they’ve got one chances to participate in such a tournament. On the other hand, when it comes to the Olympics, players will take the attitude that they will always have the opportunity to play in the tournament regardless of age. This attitude is not one to be encouraged in football. The Olympic tournament is and cannot be treated with such disdain and therefore the overage rule must be condemned to history.
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