Olympic football may not be to everyone’s tastes. This is perfectly understandable. No other event clashes with the Olympic spirit quite like it; as I write this paragraph Great Britain’s men are just 25 minutes into their opening fixture against Senegal and already there has been the usual mix of simulation, over reactions to the most innocuous of challenges and dissent towards the referee from both sides. The crowd is quiet, despite an almost full house at Old Trafford. The decibel level has so far only risen to cheer Craig Bellamy’s opening goal and, depressingly, to jeer the Welshman for his Liverpool ties. I could mention the wages many of the players are making despite participating in an event originally intended for amateur athletes, or that the Olympics are such a minor tournament compared to most other international tournaments, but I am sure you will all be familiar with these issues.
Nevertheless, football at the Olympics is here to stay and despite the many flaws, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It is a great pleasure to watch British sides in international football and the quality of the other matches in both the men’s and women’s competitions has been surprisingly high. Better yet, the Olympics may be the best weapon in combating the diving, play acting and lack of respect that blights modern day football.
Let me explain. The Olympic Spirit is about fairness, equality and the very highest level of competition. It is meant to inspire young people to become better citizens and better sportspeople. The antics and attitude of footballers, predominantly in the men’s game, does neither of these things. If we could remove the negative aspects of the game, then perhaps Olympic football could be a force for good.
The Olympics are an arena in which stricter rules for simulation can be enforced. In track events an athlete can be retrospectively disqualified just for stepping out of their lane, even if only for one stride. This is done to ensure that no athlete will ever gain an unfair advantage over their competitors, accidental or not, such is the emphasis on fairness in the Olympics. So why not punish footballers just as harshly when they deliberately throw themselves to the ground to con referees into giving free kicks, penalties and cards? The Olympic ideology gives the perfect reason (excuse if you prefer) to use retrospective punishment against cheats in all sports and football should be no exception. Players should be retrospectively booked or suspended for such offences. The idea is often mooted by pundits and fans for regular matches but it is rejected by governing bodies and others who feel it is both too difficult to enforce and not worth the effort. In Olympic football, such arguments hold no water. An extra referee with the responsibility of watching video footage for players seeking to subvert the laws of the game is plausible and indeed essential for protecting the Olympic ideal. If it works then FIFA would be compelled into accepting the system unless it wishes to imply that it wants to support cheats within the sport.
Sadly, this is probably just a pipe dream. But the International Olympic Committee has a duty to uphold the morals and principles of the Games. If the IOC is determined to keep football on the Olympic agenda then a rule change is essential.
The tournament so far: