/ 7 August 2008

Future of Olympic soccer in danger

Football is in danger of losing its prominent position at the Olympics after a ruling allowing clubs to deny them a place at the Games, IOC supremo Jacques Rogge and football boss Joseph Blatter said on Thursday.

Blatter, who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee, responded angrily to the previous day’s ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that upheld appeals from Barcelona and German clubs Schalke 04 and Werder Bremen.

”It’s really sad to see such a decision was handed down, putting in danger the entire football tournament,” said Blatter.

”We could do beach soccer or a five-a-side tournament. That would be very sad and the world would not understand it.”

Like Blatter, Rogge appealed to the clubs in questions to allow the players to stay in Beijing for the tournament which started on Thursday.

”I plead along with Joseph Blatter to leave the players in China and let them live their dream,” Rogge told a news conference.

”Football is very important. We are keen to have the best possible players at the tournament,” the IOC boss said.

Schalke and Bremen have signalled that their Brazilians Rafinha and Diego, respectively, will be allowed to stay in Beijing. Barcelona appear to be acting similarly with their Argentina star Lionel Messi.

However, the CAS decision was a huge embarrassment for Fifa and confirmed the view of the clubs that they don’t have to release players to the under-23 Olympic event, with each team allowed only three older players.

The CAS judges dismissed Fifa’s claim that there was an obligation to release players based on an agreement between Fifa and the clubs.

The CAS also said that the Olympic tournament is not on Fifa’s match calendar.

”We respect CAS but it doesn’t make things easier,” said Rogge.

Barcelona and Schalke play Champions League qualifiers during the Olympics and they could lose millions of dollars if they don’t make the group stage.

Player insurance is also an important issue if players get
injured at the Olympics.

Rogge said that Fifa and the IOC must talk swiftly after the Beijing Games to avoid a similar situation happening in 2012 in London. Rogge also said that it was up to Fifa to deliver the solution.

”If Fifa puts the Olympics on the calendar the issue is resolved,” Rogge said. – Sapa-DPA