The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is adamant on keeping the current age format for Olympic soccer and will cut back the size of the tournament if governing body FIFA changes the player eligibility rules.
In an interview, IOC president Jacques Rogge said the quality of the competition would suffer if FIFA lowers the age limit for the men’s tournament.
Rogge said he has made clear to FIFA president Sepp Blatter that the IOC will reduce the number of teams if FIFA goes through with the change from an under-23 to under-21 format.
That could mean reducing the men’s field for the 2012 London Olympics from 16 to 12 teams or, in the extreme scenario, dropping the sport altogether.
“I’m not going to enter in hypothetical situations and speculation,” the Belgian said. “It is clear and FIFA know it, that the ultimate eligibility rules will affect the size of the competition format. It relates to the value of the event.”
Under current rules, the Olympic tournament is for players 23 and under. Teams are also allowed to field three “over age” players.
The restrictions were put in place by FIFA, with IOC approval, to protect the supremacy of the World Cup as the sport’s premier competition.
The FIFA executive committee recently said it wanted to limit the tournament to players 21 and under, or eliminate the rule on allowing three players over 23.
The IOC executive board is monitoring the situation and prepared to act.
“I said clearly to Sepp that the IOC is happy with the current system,” Rogge said.
“I said very clearly to Sepp Blatter that a change downwards for the eligibility rule would definitely diminish the appeal of the tournament. Sepp knows exactly that this would affect the format of the tournament,” he said.
“They know exactly what we want,” he added. “We’ll wait and see what they’re doing.”
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