Olympic Soccer Loses Javier Hernandez—a Cautionary Tale for Olympic Basketball

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIMay 10, 2012

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23:  Javier Hernandez of Manchester United reacts during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg match between Manchester United and AFC Ajax at Old Trafford on February 23, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Today's soccer news—Javier Hernandez won't be playing for Mexico—holds a lesson for those who want to shake up Olympic basketball. 

The basketball world has been abuzz with talk of the Olympic tournament, much of it tethered to the competition's competitive structure. 

NBA players Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade chirped about player compensation. Mark Cuban lashed out at the NBA for its acquiescence to Olympic profiteering. On and on it went.

NBA commissioner David Stern jumped into the fray last month when he told ESPN's Colin Cowherd that basketball should consider modeling its Olympic competition after the men's soccer tournament.

In Stern's words (h/t Sporting News):

“My own view is that post-London, we should be thinking about what soccer does and make it 23 and under.”

Stern couldn't have picked a worse prototype.

The men's Olympic soccer tournament may be the most byzantine and diluted team competition at the Summer Games. It maintains some relevance by the sheer force of soccer's global popularity, but only in spite of its absurd regulations.

The sad impotence of Olympic soccer was at its clearest this Thursday, when English club Manchester United barred star Mexican striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez from participating in this summer's Games.

I'll explain.

Each national federation is permitted to carry three players over the age of 23 on its Olympics roster. According to The Independent, Hernandez was slated to be one of those players for Team Mexico.

But an over-23 player's involvement is contingent upon both his club team's approval and the player's willingness to participate, neither of which is a given considering the Olympic tournament's dearth of prestige in the soccer world.

That was evident in United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's patronizing rationale for the Hernandez decision. As he told the team website (via The Independent):

"He's found the second year more difficult, but a lot of that is down to not having a summer break for three years and playing every summer for his country.

"Next year he will be fine as we have agreed with the Mexican Football Association that he is going to get the requisite rest he needs to perform in the Premier League."

A native Brit showing such clear contempt for an Olympics held on British soil, tells the story. 

Now soccer can get along just fine without the Olympics. World Cup, Euro Cup and dozens of smaller continental competitions give fans their fill of international football.

But basketball is in another boat entirely. The Olympics are its premier international competition and one of the NBA's main engines for growing the game abroad.

Turning the Olympic basketball competition into a Petri dish for emerging talent would torpedo the tournament's reputation and drive away casual fans.

Basketball needs the Olympics, and it needn't take its cues from a sport that doesn't.