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Soccer at 2012 London Olympics may be for the 20-and-under crowd

February 3, 2009 | 12:30 pm

Joseph BlatterIf Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, the president of FIFA, has his way, the soccer tournament at the London Olympics in 2012 will feature players 20 years old and younger, with no exemptions allowed for overage players.

Blatter told Brazil's O Globo newspaper on Sunday that he would like to see the change implemented, and on Tuesday former French international player and coach Michel Platini, now the president of UEFA, endorsed the proposal.

"For me, the logic is to have the best 20-year-olds," Blatter told O Globo. "Those who played in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in the odd year preceding the Olympic Games."

Currently, the men's competition in the Olympics is limited to players under 23 years of age, with three overage players permitted per team under an agreement reached long ago between FIFA and the International Olympic Committee.

But the use of older players has sparked controversy, with the players' club teams often refusing to release them for the Olympics. The matter came to a head at the Beijing Olympics last year when Argentina's Lionel Messi had to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to gain his release from Barcelona. Several Brazilian players, too, had difficulty, with their German clubs being unwilling to allow them to play in the Olympics.

Blatter said the agreement with the IOC would now lapse, even if the Olympics remain an under-23 tournament.

"The Olympic Games are for youth," he said. "We should play them with the youngsters. Although the limit of 23 years gives us a better quality of football, it is bad to keep adding up to three players above this limit. It's illogical. We're going to abolish that."

Blatter said the matter would be discussed at FIFA's executive committee meeting in March and could be implemented by May.

Platini threw his support behind the plan, saying that the initiative "finds complete agreement among the European football family."

-- Grahame L. Jones

Photo: Joseph Blatter. Credit: Fernando Bizerra Jr. / European Pressphoto Agency

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