Fans, players, and coaches of different kinds of sports are always eager to participate fully in the Olympic games which comes up every four years.
The Olympics is a grand sporting event that features many competitive sports and games with participants from practically all over the world converging in a selected country, it is currently ranked amongst the most-watched events in the world.
So many sporting events take place during the Olympics including the world’s most famous sport, soccer. Soccer has had its presence in the Olympics for a long time, therefore, it is recognized officially as an Olympic sport.
Due to the four-year plan of the Olympics, young soccer players often use it as a platform for launching their career into professional soccer. After a spectacular display at the Olympics, some soccer players often get called up to their national teams.
Olympics soccer takes a different approach from the seasonally played soccer in the aspect of its qualifications.
Nations interested in participating in the Olympics can only qualify if they satisfy the qualification rules of either UEFA, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, AFC, CAF, etc. based on their regions. Each federation usually has limited slots for the number of teams that can compete in the event.
Host nations are usually granted automatic qualifications for the Olympics’ soccer and oftentimes, slots are given out to the top 4 teams from the Under-21 Championship as witnessed in the 2020 Olympics.
We know that many people don’t quite understand what is required from national soccer teams to qualify for the Olympics.
If you find yourself in this category, you don’t need to worry any longer because we will give detailed answers to your questions in this article.
How to qualify for the soccer Olympics?
Qualifying for the Olympics entails that in a region, a nation’s Under-23 team must emerge amongst the top teams after a series of tournaments organized before the Olympics.
Since its inception, many sports had great chances of becoming part of the Olympics but couldn’t due to certain factors. Soccer wasn’t initially part of the Olympics when it was first created, it was only added when it started to gain popularity.
Soccer wasn’t among the sports featured in the inaugural Olympics at the Athens Games in 1896. It was later included as an exhibition event featuring just three teams in the next edition held in Paris in the year 1900.
Soccer became more significant at the Olympic event held in St. Louis in 1904. It garnered much support but still lagged a little and wasn’t highly recognized. It featured just a few North American clubs who played the game in a round-robin arrangement.
During the London Olympics held in 1908, soccer gained full recognition and acknowledgment from FIFA for the first time.
Ever since, soccer has witnessed a tremendous boom in its participation at the Olympics although it often experiences a few downtimes as well. Olympics soccer still waxes strong today and the chance of eliminating it from the Olympics is almost impossible.
Like other sports actively partaking in the Olympics, soccer teams and players also have certain basic requirements demanded of them to qualify for the tournament. Below are some of these requirements.
For soccer Olympics, at least 20 players in the men’s team must either be 23 years old or younger, while the rest 3 players can be older than 23. This requirement does not cut across women’s teams as FIFA did not impose any age limit for participation.
A valid passport indicating the day, month, and year of birth must be presented by players to prove that they are eligible for the game, failure to do this leads to automatic disqualification of players from the event.
This requirement was bent a bit for the first time in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics held in 2021 as some players who were 24 years old were allowed to participate in the Olympic men’s soccer tournament due to the pandemic delay.
Players that were born on or after 1st January 1997 were eligible including the 3 over-age exceptions. This happened because FIFA decided that the birthdate deadline should be moved back by a year after the Olympics was put on hold for a year.
Qualifying is the most important requirement of participating in the soccer Olympics. Before the Olympic games, a regional qualifying tournament is held which determines the teams that qualify for the Olympics.
To qualify, a team must be among the top teams or finalists. Different tournaments are organized depending on the nation’s qualifying region. Also, different regions have a specific number of nations that can qualify for the soccer Olympics—just like the World Cup.
The qualifying process in respect to regions for men’s soccer is shown below:
- Asian nations compete with one another in the AFC U-23 championships. The 3 finalists from that tournament will qualify for the upcoming Olympics
- African nations compete with one another in the CAF U-23 Cup of Nations. The 3 finalists qualify for the upcoming Olympics
- Nations in Oceania compete in an organized OFC Men’s Olympic Tournament and only the winners of the tournament qualify for the upcoming Olympics
- The UEFA European U-21 Championship is set for the European nations to compete. The 4 finalists of the tournament qualify for the upcoming Olympics
- Nations compete in a pre-Olympic tournament known as CONMEBOL in South America. The 2 finalists qualify for the upcoming Olympics
- In Central America, North, and the Caribbean, teams compete with each other in a Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship known as CONCACAF. The 2 finalists qualify for the upcoming Olympics
The qualifying process according to regions for women’s soccer is as follows;
- AFC women’s Olympic qualifying tournament is played by Asian nations. The 2 finalists qualify for the Olympics
- A home-and-away series format that consists of 4 qualifying rounds is adopted by African nations. The winner qualifies for the Olympics while the second-place team plays against the team that finishes second place from South America to determine which team will qualify for the Olympics
- Nations in Oceania compete with each other in the OFC Women’s Nation Cup. The winner of the tournament will end up qualifying for the Olympics
- The European nations make use of the FIFA Women’s World Cup to choose which teams qualify for the Olympics. The 3 finalists from the tournament get to qualify for the event
- The nations in South America make use of the Copa America tournament that precedes the Olympics to determine the team that will qualify for the event. The winner qualifies, while the team that finishes second plays against the team that finishes second from Africa to determine which team progresses to the Olympics.
- In Central America, North, and the Caribbean, teams compete with each other in a qualifying championship preceding the Olympics. The 2 finalists get to qualify for the Olympic event
When it comes to qualifying for the Olympics soccer, what baffles most people is the fact that one of the world’s most athletic countries, the United States of America, has failed to qualify for the Men’s soccer Olympics since 2008.
From the above description, you can observe that most regions make use of already existing tournaments to decide teams that will qualify for the Olympics. However, in other regions, stand-alone tournaments are used to decide the qualifiers.
For the men’s Olympics soccer, national teams and clubs are not mandated to release their professional male players for the tournament as FIFA does not view Olympics soccer as a full soccer tournament. This is why the likes of Neymar and Lionel Messi are recently not seen in the tournament.
Before the 1992 Olympics held in Barcelona, professional players were completely restricted from competing. It was in the 1992 games that the IOC allowed professional soccer players to participate in the tournament for the first time.
An age limit was still enforced which made it impossible for some professionals to participate. However, the women’s soccer Olympics often features professional senior players.
Although the soccer Olympics looks similar to the FIFA World Cup, it is still not considered a full tournament by FIFA and it has requirements that must be met before a nation can be allowed to participate.
The Olympics soccer has over the years been an exciting and interesting event that has given many athletes a platform and an opportunity to excel in their chosen careers.
It is only a matter of time before the American soccer team will begin a force to reckon with at the soccer Olympics. Our prediction is based on the growth of fans and enthusiasts in the country.
The exceptional performance of Christian Pulisic, Chelsea’s attacking midfielder also nicknamed ‘Captain America’, is a sign that the love for soccer is growing rapidly in America.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!