Changing China

Giant on the move

Is there a place for soccer at the Olympics?

May 26, 2008

AC Milan’s Kaka reacts during the Italian Serie A soccer match against AS Roma in RomeKaka’s dream of helping Brazil win their first Olympic gold medal in soccer has been scuppered by his club AC Milan, who have announced that they will not allow him to play in the tournament in August.

“He is already part of the Brazil national side. The club does not think it is right for Kaka to also be involved in official matches for Brazil’s Olympic team,” the Italian club said in a statement.  

The Olympic tournament is restricted to under-23 teams but Kaka, 26, had been hoping to take part under a rule which allows each side to field upto three over-age players.  

Brazil’s eagerness for Kaka to play shows how seriously Olympic soccer is taken in Latin America.  

The Brazilians, five-times winners of FIFA’s World Cup, are so determined to break their duck that Dunga, coach of the senior side, will be in charge of the team in Beijing as well.

He could lose both jobs if he fails.

Hugo Sanchez has already been fired as Mexico’s senior coach this year after he took charge of the Olympic team and they failed to qualify for Beijing.  

For most of the world, however, Olympic soccer is an exotic sideshow, which is full of anomalies and sits uncomfortably at the Games.  

Argentina's gold medallist Carlos Tevez shows his medal after the awards ceremony at Athens Olympics.Ever since soccer’s own World Cup was started in 1930, the relationship has been uneasy with soccer’s governing body FIFA determined that the Olympics should not overshadow its own tournament.

Until 1980, the Olympic tournament was officially amateur but, in the period after the Second World War, Eastern Europe countries fielded their strongest national teams under the allegation that their top players were not professionals.

As a result, Soviet Bloc teams dominated that period.  

Great Britain has stopped entering at all, fearful the fielding a united team in the Olympics could calls for the same to happen at the World Cup.  

The present format, which has been in use since 1992, appears to have found some acceptance and there have certainly been some high spots, notably when Nigeria beat Brazil and Argentina to win gold in 1996 and Iraq’s remarkable run to the semi-finals at the last Games.

But, with so much soccer being played elsewhere, many people wonder whether the sport really ought to have a place at the Olympics at all.

Unhappy Kaka by Chris Helgren. Carlos Tevez with his gold medal from the Athens Olympics by Marcos Brindicci.

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