LONDON — Footballers should follow the example of World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi and force their clubs to release them for the Olympic tournament, world football supremo Sepp Blatter said on Sunday. Blatter told the Olympic News Service in an interview in Coventry that it was up to players rather than their clubs if they wanted to be at the Games. "Everyone should embrace the spirit and play in the Games if they want to. The problem is that the national associations are not making the right contacts with the clubs," Blatter said.
"I think the players themselves would like to come. They should do what Lionel Messi did in Beijing in 2008. He made a stand with Barcelona and they allowed him to go to the Olympics. He won a gold medal. He was a champion." However, Fifa itself is denying all players entry for the Olympic tournament because it is the only sports federation at the Games which imposes an age limit, in this case under-23, with only three older players allowed per team.
Fifa has only recently made it compulsory for under-23 players to be released, after a 2008 decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in favour of Barcelona against Messi because the Olympic tournament was not in the international calendar. Messi, 21 at the time, finally went to the Olympics in Beijing when then coach Pep Guardiola gave him the nod.
National federations can only act according to Fifa rules and many clubs oppose letting players go to the Games because they interfere with pre-season training and in the case of the Olympics in Beijing and Sydney 2000 with the start of domestic leagues and European events. — DPA