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Age Limit for Beijing Olympics Soccer?

Sepp Blatter, president of the Federation International of Football Association (FIFA), said yesterday in Leipzig, Germany, that his executive committee had reached an agreement to make men's soccer at the 2008 Beijing Olympics an under-23-only tournament, and to abolish the previous rule allowing participation of three overaged players.

An official announcement relating to age limit will be made during the FIFA conference in June next year.

According to an article published by Sina.com today, FIFA's reform would lower the age limit further to 20 after the 2008 Games.

The U-23 plus three overaged restriction first came into effect at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as FIFA's concession to the International Olympic Committee, who had been striving to improve the quality of Olympic soccer as well as to make it as prominent as FIFA's milk cow, the World Cup tournament.

This time, Blatter is reportedly responding to complaints from many European clubs that their players weren't able to rest to prepare for domestic league matches and national team games. The Olympics soccer tournaments begin at the same time as the European league seasons.

European players would no longer burn out thanks to the new decision and the move will help protect FIFA's World Cup tournament, touted as the world's greatest single sporting event. However, it also makes for less impressive Olympics soccer.

The absence of big names like David Beckham, Brazil's Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos in Beijing in 2008 is sure to kill much of the Olympics buzz, with possible knock-on effects like lower audience and spectator numbers, less sponsorship, and general economic losses for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG).

As the Olympics host, China, who automatically qualify for the tournament, will have to give up some bright players including Zheng Zhi, Li Weifeng and Sun Jihai. But the China Football Association (CFA) and Zhu Guanghu, head coach of the national team, said FIFA's decision wouldn't adversely affect their plans for 2008.

"Zheng Zhi and Li Weifeng might not qualify for the games and while that could affect our competitiveness, so do the other countries. Some of their brightest stars won't be playing, which could put us on an equal footing," Zhu said, as quoted by Titan Sports yesterday.

Yang Yimin, vice president of the CFA, said the change could actually work to China's advantage in terms of China's current world ranking.

"Some of the younger players, those born in 1985 or later, are actually more skilful to some players in the national team, as we noticed at the Asian Youth Championship and World Youth Tournament. We have reason to believe that we can achieve our goal of last-eight or better in 2008," Yang said.

(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, December 9, 2005)

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