Why men’s Olympic Football is not relevant anymore

Every four years, the world is captivated by the World Cup competition, which gathers the best football players in a battle for global football supremacy.

The Olympic Games are one of the most prestigious competitions for athletes and it rivals the glory and attention that follows the World Cup. Although football has been a part of the Olympic games more than two decades before the inaugural World Cup, Olympic Football has never been able to match the worldwide success and relevance that the World Cup holds.

If the Olympics are supposed to be a stage for the world’s best athletes, why does Olympic Football fail to compete along with the World Cup?

Don’t look further than FIFA, who managed to create a billion-dollar football monopoly through their aim to provide unity among national soccer associations. Upon the World Cup’s creation in 1930, football fans across the globe devoted their previous attention to the Olympics for FIFA’s World Cup competition. FIFA did not accept anyone threatening their monopoly, so they fought the Olympics to place rules that would ensure FIFA’s dominance.

Uruguay won back to back gold medals for Men’s football in 1924 & 1928 (PHOTO: Olympics)

FIFA forced the International Olympic Committee to drop football from the ’32 Games and upon its return to the Olympics in 1936, it was an amateur event. Olympic Football remained an amateur event until 1984. In 1996, a new rule was added that only allowed squads to consist of under-23 players, with the exception of three over-age players. This age limit ensured that the Olympic tournament would never rival the World Cup. 

Ironically, this age limit is absent for Women’s Olympic Football. Since Women’s football does not have the same attention as the men’s side of the game does, the Women’s World Cup is not a priority to FIFA and they are fine with it contesting with Women’s Olympic Football.

Olympic football comes at a time of year when players are either in the off-season or returning from one of FIFA’s international competitions. Most footballers are not interested in playing in the Olympics unless they have a strong desire to represent their country at an international level.

Tokyo 2020 took place in August, the time when the domestic football season begins. Most football clubs do not want to risk their players being injured or fatigued before the upcoming season and block players from playing Olympic Football. 

Both Mohammed Salah (left) and Neymar Jr. (right) were blocked from participating in Tokyo 2020 (PHOTO: UEFA)

The 2018 World Cup Final between France and Croatia amassed a viewership of over one billion, contrasting Tokyo’s Spain vs Brazil final, which brought in under twenty million viewers. 

Out of FIFA’s top 20 ranked International teams, only six qualified for Tokyo 2020 and most of the squads were inferior to the ones present in this summer’s FIFA international competitions.

Olympic Football may not be relevant for the world’s best international teams and star footballers but it still holds significance for developing players and countries who are not represented in FIFA’s international competitions. 

Brazil defeated Spain 2-1 in extra time to win gold in Men’s Football at Tokyo 2020 (PHOTO: Dribble Theatre)

Winning a gold medal in Men’s Football is still a celebrated and well-regarded accomplishment, but it does not match the value that winning a FIFA country competition would have. 

Commercialism exists side by side with the sublime athleticism present at the Olympics, but FIFA’s greed has managed to prevent Men’s Olympic Football from receiving adequate recognition and talent to classify it as a worthwhile Olympic event.

The Author

Dima Gambino

Aspiring football writer. You can find me on Twitter at @GambinoDima.

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