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Page last updated at 13:20 GMT, Saturday, 5 December 2009

Olympic football keeps under-23 rule as Fifa relents

Argentina's Lionel Messi at the Beijing 2008 Olympics
Lionel Messi scored in Argentina's 2008 Olympic final win

Fifa has rejected a proposal to turn Olympic football into an under-21 tournament, arguing not enough time remains to implement the change.

The plan, backed by governing bodies Fifa and Uefa, was opposed by the International Olympic Committee, which prefers the current under-23 system.

Fifa will now "support the status quo" as some qualifiers are due to start before any change could be implemented.

However, Fifa's general secretary said the system could be altered after 2012.

"It's true some confederations, like Uefa and [South American association] Conmebol, said they would have prepared the under-21 option, which was also for discussion," said Jack Valcke.

Instead of having discussions and discussions over what's best, it was decided unanimously to support the status quo

Jack Valcke
Fifa General Secretary

"But finally they understood the situation and said they will be fine with the under-23.

"There will be a meeting in Zurich in February 2010 to discuss the period beyond 2012 but, for the time being, the decision is to stay as we are."

Valcke explained that in addition to the IOC's opposition, Fifa had been worried about running out of time to decide on the change, let alone implement it, before the Olympic qualifying process begins.

"In some confederations the qualification process has to start sooner, meaning very early 2010," he said.

"That's why, instead of having discussions and discussions over what's best, it was decided unanimously to support the status quo."

The current system allows teams to field three overage players at the Olympics alongside a squad of under-23 players, which means top internationals like Wayne Rooney will now be cleared to play for their countries at London 2012.

Fifa, aware that football's presence in the Olympics has long been a source of discomfort both within the game and among other sports, has been keen to find an alternative to the under-23 model, and will not have been happy to bow to pressure from the IOC.


Fifa president Sepp Blatter previously suggested reducing the age limit to 21, or abolishing the age limit but barring all players with World Cup experience, and created a working group to report on possible alterations.

However, in June, the IOC warned football could be kicked out of the Games if Fifa stood by its plan to alter the under-23 limit.

The governing bodies, two of the most influential in world sport, have struggled to agree over the rules since Barcelona star Lionel Messi was almost prevented from leading Argentina to the Olympics last year. He went on to help his side win gold, scoring in the final.

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see also
Europe supports Olympic age limit
26 Nov 09 |  Olympics
Blatter sure of Olympic agreement
30 Sep 09 |  Football
Fifa says Team GB 'poses no risk'
12 Nov 08 |  Scotland
Blatter welcomes GB football team
04 Aug 08 |  Football
Messi scores in Argentina victory
07 Aug 08 |  Football

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