Overshadowed by the fuss about Leo Messi’s latest world player award, Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘retaliatory’ cup hat-trick against Celta and the minnows’ takeover of England’s League Cup, this has been a significant week on the Olympic circuit.
The prospect for football at the Games is that the status quo will remain for the foreseeable future: that is, a women’s ‘open’ tournament plus a men’s competition restricted to under-21 players with each team permitted up to three over-age stars.
Brazil believe that Rio de Janeiro in 2016, finally, will be the happily appropriate setting where they win Olympic gold for the first time after the Wembley final failure last august which was the beginning of the end for Mano Menezes as national coach.
He was a dead man walking after that. Even beating Argentina on penalties in an artificially-created mini tournament could not save him; Luiz Felipe Scolari was already closing in, in the minds of CBF president Jose Maria Marin and Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo.
No doubts will be raised ahead of 2016 – or 2020 – about whether football should be in the Olympics.
Britain, oddly as the birthplace of the modern game, is alone in being sceptical. Even those doubts were dispelled eventually by the time London 2012 got real: the 1.9m football tickets sold represented one quarter of all the Olympic buy-up.
In 2020 the Olympics will be staged in Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo.
Istanbul’s bid was complicated by the football federation’s ambition to host the European Championship finals in the same summer. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan stood up at different times and made formal commitments to both – though Olympic bid officials pretend to ignore the fact.
In the end this hedging of bets irritated both UEFA and the IOC which helped propel UEFA president Michel Platini into devising his pan-European finals proposal for 2020. Istanbul may stage a game or two or has an outside chance of the three-match finals mini-tournament; either way, the Turks will know their Olympic 2020 fate in September.
Madrid has no doubts about welcoming football if it lands the Games, at the third successive time of bidding.
Several other nearby Spanish towns and cities have been angling for matches and football would be at the very heart of the city’s hosting: the Olympic stadium is already under construction because it will be the new home of Atletico de Madrid.
As for Tokyo, the National Stadium which hosted the World Club Cup until the building of Yokohama International for the 2002 World Cup, is being redeveloped. It will be main venue for the 2019 Rugby World Cup; whether it will host football if Tokyo wins 2020 is not clear. But the option is there.
Homare Sawa, Japan’s Women’s World Cup-winning captain and former Women’s World Player of the Year, has no doubt that football has a central and important place at the heart of the Olympic Games.
Earlier this week she told this writer: “Football is so popular all around the world that its presence in the Games helps with the popularity of the Olympics. It attracts people who then become interested, also, in many of the other sports.”
Sawa has no doubt about football’s Olymic magnetism. She believes even more football tickets would be sold in 2020 than in London if Tokyo wins host rights to the Games.
Great Britain’s women’s team may be there but almost certainly not the men: that, of course, is another strand of London’s Olympic legacy which will not be followed through.