BY DANIEL ETCHELLS
Football Federation Australia (FFA) chief executive James Johnson says the national governing body would like to open up discussion with FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to consider adjusting the Olympic men’s football tournament so that it becomes an under-24 tournament, rather than an under-23 tournament, for the re-scheduled Tokyo 2020 Games.
It comes in the wake of confirmation earlier this week that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and host nation Japan will postpone Tokyo 2020 until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Teams participating in the Olympic men’s football tournament are restricted to under-23 players, with a maximum of three overage players allowed.
As reported by The Indian Express, six players who were involved in Australia’s successful qualifying campaign for Tokyo 2020 would be out of contention for the Games if the tournament age limit is not increased.
Graham Arnold’s side secured a Tokyo 2020 berth after beating Uzbekistan in the third-place playoff at the AFC Under-23 Championship, which took place in Thailand in January.
The FFA is encouraging the men’s football tournament organisers to consider ensuring that all players from each nation that helped their countries qualify have equal opportunity to earn selection for the competition in 2021.
“Men’s football at the Olympics is an under-23 tournament but we would like to open up discussion with FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation to consider adjusting the men’s football tournament so that it becomes an under-24 tournament for the Tokyo Olympic Games,” Johnson said.
“This would ensure the players who helped their nation qualify for the Games this year but might otherwise be ineligible for the tournament next year because of age restrictions, have an opportunity to fulfill their dreams of representing their country and becoming Olympians.”
As reported by The Indian Express, Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) chief executive Matt Carroll said it was an issue that the IOC and FIFA “will have to address”.
“This hopefully is a once in history event, a postponement of the Games,” he said.
“I think with good working relationships, together we can get over all those technical details and ensure that people who have qualified remain qualified.”
The FFA has also reaffirmed its commitment to work with the AOC to send teams, including the women’s national side, to next year’s Olympics.
“Our football community are rightly proud of the efforts and achievements of the Matildas and the under-23 men’s national football team to qualify for Tokyo,” Johnson added.
“We must however ensure the health and well-being of the athletes, officials, volunteers, and fans is prioritised.
“We are glad that the IOC, AOC and all parties involved have reached this decision.
“When the dates of the potentially rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are known, FFA will work with its national teams unit and the AOC to plan the best possible preparations for both sides.”
The South African Football Association (SAFA), meanwhile, has backed the decision to postpone Tokyo 2020.
“This is the time for decisive action and putting the health of athletes first,” SAFA President Danny Jordaan was reported as saying by the African News Agency.
“While we state our clear position on the matter, we do feel for the players who worked hard over three years to qualify for the Olympics, South Africa’s second successive qualification after Rio 2016.”
He added: “We will keep in touch with FIFA and hope in the case of the Euro finals which has been moved to 2021 and Copa América also moved to 2021, that IOC and FIFA will also consider these options where players can participate in a safe and non-threatening medical environment.”