The Olympic Dream is a Football Nightmare

Over the last couple of days I’ve read two separate pieces about Olympic Football and both have been negative.

The first was from Steve Cram an intensely bitter man whom whenever I see him on television always seems to be moaning about something. Cram struck me as a man living in the shadow of football. He has an interest in football as being from the North-East it’s almost impossible not to have and supports Sunderland. But this is the Olympics, this is his time, for runners and athletes and you know, spots that we’re good at as a nation because you’re allowed to sit down while you do them.

The second piece was written from quotes by David Seaman who suggested that Olympic football should be played by amateurs like it was up until 1984. Seaman isn’t exactly a media icon and since he retired from playing, he’s not really done the television circuit. He has occasionally appeared on Sky’s Champions League coverage but often failed to articulate any point he was trying to make. This may be because he struggled with the time constraints placed on pundits during a live broadcast or because he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. Not knowing the man at all I wouldn’t like to presume one way or the other, but if I had to guess I’d say it’s because he’s a bit thick.

If you’ve not seen the draw for the Olympic Football Tournament then here it is:

Men’s draw:

Group A: Great Britain, Senegal, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay

Group B: Mexico, South Korea, Gabon, Switzerland

Group C: Brazil, Egypt, Belarus, New Zealand

Group D: Spain, Japan, Honduras, Morocco

Looking at the groups I have several immediate problems. There is no team from Germany, France, Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Argentina, Ghana, Croatia, Denmark, Russia and on and on and more and more. Only four of the top ten of the FIFA rankings have sent a team.

There are however teams from those top notch footballing nations Gabon, United Arab Emirates and Belarus. Ghana have a very strong youth side and would have caused all sorts of problems had they attended but instead we get Senegal who flopped horribly at the African Cup of Nations. Why is there no German side? Just looking at the groups suddenly made me realise that this Olympic football tournament that had been built up in the media was perhaps not worth getting all that excited about.

Tickets haven’t sold out, this might change now the draw has been made according to people who research these kind of things, football fans tend to like to know who they are watching before they spend money on tickets. I wish I could have got the job of doing that research because it seems face-slappingly-obvious to me.

Cram’d with Seaman

Steve Cram says that the Olympic football isn’t the pinnacle of the sport and he’s right, it isn’t, not even close. For a start the format is odd, under 23’s but you get 3 players who can be over that to add a bit of much needed star quality to proceedings. You could simply remove the age restrictions but that would make it exactly like the World Cup and FIFA would have a nutty and start crying.

Seaman actually did a good job of talking up synchronised swimming. You might smirk but it’s a tough sport to compete in. You have to hold your breath and swim, all the while keeping time to music, it’s gymnastics under-water, frankly gymnastics out of water is hard enough so kudos to anyone who has a crack at it, let alone those who reach the Olympic standard.

Trouble is, Seaman also reckons that the football should be played by amateurs, which to me somewhat decreases the value of his opinion on things. The naivety of this suggestion almost astounds me. Perhaps, in some dream fairy land where the game is played on clouds this might be possible, but not in any way shape or form does it seem even remotely likely in reality. For a start you have the rules which will give you a headache the likes of which would be similar to that of replacing every liquid in your diet with whiskey, then going out for a few pints.

What exactly is an amateur? I play football on Saturday’s in the Anglian Combination Football League, I pay a match fee in order to play. I am most certainly an amateur. But you don’t have to go much higher up the football ladder before you reach players who get paid. So perhaps you draw the line at those who do it for a living? But where is that line drawn?

It instantly creates all sorts of grey areas that really shouldn’t be of interest to anyone, which is fine because the football won’t be of interest to anyone either. The idea that you should watch players who are not good enough to be professional slug it out for Olympic gold frightens me. If they are struggling to sell tickets now, I imagine that getting rid of all the players who you’ve heard of and replacing them with guys only slightly better than the majority of the crowd is really going to help.

Cram has a good point, football has a way of taking over from other sports and dominating everything. We love football in this country and often times other sports lose out because football comes in and steals the headlines. Cram makes the point well.

It is the media who get a bit more interested in the football because it involves people they know and are familiar with. It’s much easier, and more glamorous, for them to write about David Beckham than athletes in minority sports.

So what’s the answer? Quite simple, don’t bother. I don’t think this Olympics would lose anything by getting rid of the football. The tickets haven’t sold, the rules are strained and the only reasons for keeping it seem to be because that’s what the media in this country like to write about; not to mention the fact that the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish F.A’s have kicked up a right fuss about being part of a Great British team. The number of stories about David Beckham is also depressing. As is the prospect of watching a team managed by the unquestionably negative Stuart Pearce.

The fun part of this is playing the who would you select game, complicated further by the European Championships as the F.A has said that no player will participate in both, but when that is the main selling point you know you’re in trouble. I’ll enjoy it if we win the Olympics because a gold medal is still a gold medal, but I’d infinitely rather win the Euro’s.  I’ll watch the games because I always watch sport and I’ll watch the football because I always watch football. But I really doubt that the overriding memory of the games will be the football and if it turns out to be the case, then we’ll know that the London games has been an incredible failure.

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