China’s Zhang Jilong may fear he is on a hiding to nothing. Not necessarily in terms of his ambition to firm up his role as acting president of the Asian Football Confederation but in terms of trying to synchronising the needs of football and the Olympic Games.
He will take his seat on the FIFA executive committee next week for the first time in his newly-acquired role as chairman of FIFA’s Olympic football committee.
Amid the Ethics earthquake within CONCACAF and Caribbean football, the inter-continental legal pursuit of Ricardo Teixeira, the squabble with Brazil and FIFA’s own governance issues, Zhang’s concerns may barely gain a look-in.
One issue is the construction of Team GB which will lean on England’s Football Association with, probably, the support of a handful of Welsh and Scottish players who understand they dare not pass up the once-in-a-lifetime chance of competing in an Olympics in their own country (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that is).
Far more significant next summer will be the issue of player release since the Olympic tournament is not included in the international calendar: a series of Club v Country storms will erupt which will keep FIFA’s newly-reorganised communications department busy 24/7.
Inevitably, a significant number of European clubs will simply refuse to release their young stars at such a crucial time in the pre-season schedule and with the early rounds of the European club competitions already under way.
This is issue FIFA can resolve for the future by taking the Olympic finals into the calendar but, since the Games is not strictly a FIFA-dictated event, this may never happen.
At least one footballing issue concerning London 2012 is beyond Zhang’s concern: the future of the stadium.
This is mostly but not entirely a domestic issue. The basic mistake was an original, if excusable and understable, lack of vision.
The stadium was designed as a modular athletics venue for a sport which could never offer the stadium viability. Ideally it should have been built on the Stade de France concept with retractable seating to cover the track and make the stadium work for football.
Bear in mind, however, that it was designed in an era of Olympic-skepticism and amid public horror at the Wembley cost overruns.
Hence the chaotic after-the-event attempt to attract football. West Ham beat off Tottenham with the help of financial support from Newham Council which was clearly outside the rules. The legacy company was thus forced to go back to square one for fear of being ripped apart by the courts.
PR guru Mike Lee, who worked on the London 2012 bid but then on Tottenham’s stadium tender, says: “You’ve just got to adjust according to what is going on. For London this was a far more complicated issue than for a Russia or a Qatar which have more of a blank canvas.”
Not one football match at London 2012 will take place in the Olympic Stadium. Not even the final. At least the Chinese did tip that particular hat to football in the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing.
In quieter moments next week Zhang, centrally involved in running the 2008 football event, might appreciate the irony.
By Keir Radnedge