Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi took a step closer to Beijing on Wednesday when FIFA ruled that clubs are obliged to release players aged 23 or under to play at the Olympics.
Barcelona and Bundesliga clubs Werder Bremen and Schalke, who want to keep Diego and Rafinha, respectively, out of the Games, will probably fight on in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but for now FIFA has made the right decision, one that’s for the good of the game as well as the Games.
Seeing Bremen and Schalke threaten legal action against their young Brazilian internationals earlier this month was a sad sight not only for the Olympics but for soccer.
Diego and Rafinha decided (quite nobly, if you ask me) to put their country and the Olympics temporarily ahead of their club careers and defied the orders of their employers—going AWOL in the process and putting themselves in line for large fines and other disciplinary problems on their return.
Barcelona and Schalke have Champions League qualifiers coming up, so it’s easy to see why they, in particular, want their players back home, but the long-term consequences could be more damaging than the short-term loss.
How can anyone expect a brilliant player like Diego to get excited about playing in Bremen ever again if he is forced to miss the Olympics in order to take part in a preseason Bundesliga training camp on the North Sea island of Norderney?
Could we expect Rafinha to have his heart in the Bundesliga’s first two matches when his compatriots were trying to win a first gold medal in China?
“[The judge stated that] taking part in the Olympic Games is a unique opportunity for all athletes of any sporting discipline,” FIFA said in its statement.