The United States attained a decisive qualifying victory and the Dutch became the first Europeans to begin planning in earnest for next year’s samba fiesta. Meanwhile in Asia, Jordan enters a World Cup Playoff against the fifth-placed South American team as they hope to make their first entrance on the world’s gaudiest platform. World Cup qualifying week has come and gone.
Mexico’s El Tri, adrift in the CONCACAF by 3 points, have decided that the manager who brought them Olympic success last year was better placed than former boss Jose Manuel De la Torre to successfully close what has been a dire qualification process. Hope comes from Luis Fernando Tena leading a similar cadre of players to success in London against what passed for quasi-imposing opposition; the ascension is a direct result of success in a lesser tournament.
That it is seen as a lesser competition is precisely why football should not be an Olympic event. As the United States proved so emphatically against El Tri, the World Cup is the ultimate prize for any nation fortunate enough to have a federation; the same can’t be said for an Olympic tournament.
The Games provide highs across the board for and from all nations: Bermuda’s yachting, South Korea’s unturnoffable archery and Equatorial Guinean swimming. The two-week festival of sport should be the pinnacle of so many disciplines, ranging from recently-reinstated wrestling to (sigh) BMX racing. Nothing compares with Olympic gold for athletes who race down ski-slopes or swim 5000 metres in open water – whereas, were Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lucas Neill or Landon Donovan presented with choosing between Olympics and World Cup, the smart money pictures them holding a golden cup – not medal – aloft.
The second-tier tournament argument is only helped by the restrictions imposed upon competing national squads. Current Olympic regulations for males allow 3 players per nation above age 23, in effect creating a pared-down World Youth Cup – a tournament that only occurred two months ago with France victorious. In every sport, Olympic champions are crowned the best in the world – except football. Try matching the victorious Mexico XI from last year against Spain of 2010 and witness an unmediated slaughter.
This varies subtly from sports like basketball. Despite the highest standard of play occurring in the NBA, the national team from Senegal can’t qualify to play in that competition; a player must aspire to represent his country in the Olympics or FIBA Championships rather than against the New York Knicks or Toronto Raptors. While individuals yearn for a training camp with even the poorest franchises; a nation’s collective consciousness dwells in the Olympics.
It may be the epitome of pie-eyed optimism, but the Olympic Games should be the pinnacle for national sport. The World Champions of football – the most global and widespread of all games – are determined at the World Cup and not the Olympic Games, creating redundancy in and already-bloated schedule.
Concern about capturing a TV audience is misplaced. The familiarity of football would be replaced with the unique nature of a carnival that only happens once every four years; a carnival that produces compelling sport in every event from volleyball to the modern pentathlon. If London did nothing else (and it did), the Games shone a light on the tremendous stories that the Games regularly produce. Football has enough of those tales – it’s time to allow other sports to enjoy their summer unshaded.