x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Olympics: No kicking football out of the Games

Any question about football not belonging at the Olympics has been put to rest by the fantastic attendance both the men's and women's games are seeing.

The London Games are seeing football matches average higher attendance than the Beijing Games four years ago and trail only the 1984 Los Angeles Games with several matches yet to play. A crowd of 70,584 at Wembley watched the women's Team GB-Brazil match, the largest-ever crowd at a women's match in Britain.
The London Games are seeing football matches average higher attendance than the Beijing Games four years ago and trail only the 1984 Los Angeles Games with several matches yet to play. A crowd of 70,584 at Wembley watched the women's Team GB-Brazil match, the largest-ever crowd at a women's match in Britain.

The debate about football's place in the Olympics has raged for years but the fact 1.7 million fans have so far watched the 2012 football tournament suggests its Games future is secure.

The Olympic tournament is dwarfed by the World Cup and detractors say the age restriction among the men and the sight of millionaire players do not sit comfortably with the Games' ideals.

However, according to figures issued by world soccer's governing body Fifa after the completion of the men's quarter-finals on Saturday, 1,230,818 have watched the 28 men's matches with two semi-finals, the third place play-off and the final to come.

The average gate of 43,958 is higher than Beijing four years ago and just behind the average of 44,488 set in Los Angeles in 1984 when modern records began.

With huge crowds expected at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, Manchester's Old Trafford and London's Wembley this week, that average is set to rise - swelling the coffers of the London Games organisers.

So far the women's tournament has attracted almost half a million fans with the total attendance standing at 480,206 with two more matches at Wembley and one at Old Trafford and Coventry to come.

The match between Britain's women and Brazil at Wembley on Tuesday attracted a crowd of 70,584 fans - the highest number ever to watch a women's match in Britain.

Carlos Alberto Parreira, who managed Brazil to victory in the 1994 World Cup final and is on Fifa's technical delegation at these Games, concurred with that view.

"The games have been played in a fantastic spirit of fair play in fabulous stadiums like Wembley, Old Trafford, Newcastle, Hampden Park and Cardiff," he said.

"And football is definitely an Olympic sport. Look at the crowds.

"The Olympics are different from other football competitions. The village makes a huge difference, but the Games themselves are played in a different spirit. Always you will get some incidents in games and some rough play, of course that's football.

"But generally the players and the crowds are enjoying an Olympic experience. For me so far, and I have been already coaching for 45 years, this is the best Olympics ever.

"The British people should be very proud."

While football is undoubtedly the world's most popular sport it is just one of 26 at the Olympics. The men's competition is an age-restricted contest with the 18-man squads allowed only three players over the age of 23.

There is no age restriction for the women.

Despite those who say football has no place in the Olympics, the men's tournament is increasingly seen as a very serious competition by most countries, not least Brazil. Their young team have reached the semi-finals where they face South Korea at Old Trafford tomorrow. Brazil desperately want a first ever Olympic gold medal.

"There is always pressure for Brazil whatever competition we are involved in: Copa America, the World Cup, the Olympic Games," the coach Mano Menezes said after their hard-fought 3-2 victory against Honduras on Saturday.

"If you don't win a medal, there is a crisis in Brazil. But I am trying not to worry too much."

Japan's meb will face Mexico in the other men's semi-final.

Japan's women, the world champions, are in the semi-finals of the women's competition and face France at Wembley on Monday, while Canada play the United States, the defending champions, at Old Trafford.

The final of the women's competition is at Wembley on Thursday with the men's final taking place at the London stadium on Saturday.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE