by Luke Irelan-Hill
I do not know about you, but I just cannot get excited about football at the Olympics.
The draws were made yesterday for the group stages but the same nerves and excitement were not there as when the draw is made for the World Cup or European Championships. Waiting impatiently for England to be drawn out of the hat, fingers crossed tightly hoping to avoid the big guns; Brazil, France, Argentina, Italy and all the rest.
It just was not there.
At first I thought the obvious. Maybe it was because England are not competing, instead a Great Britain team is competing (or England plus Gareth Bale.) But then I realised that was not the answer.
The answer is that football has no place there.
Sports people are united by the Olympics. The summer event is the pinnacle of their career; it is what they strive for. The dream of winning a gold medal in their specific field is what they train and build towards for four years. Many competitors have been dreaming of it since they were young children. They grew up seeking a gold medal. For them there is nothing bigger.
That is the problem with football in regards to the Olympics. The World Cup is the pinnacle of a footballer’s career; it is the accolade that every professional footballer dreams of winning. This is the same as golf, which is joining the Olympics in four years’ time; it has majors. These majors are what golf players want to win – not gold medals. Tennis is also the same with its four grand slams.
It just cannot be right that footballer’s and tennis players are taking a look around the Olympic village and treating it like a bit of fun. It is almost an insult to the athletes.
And I have no doubt if you ask any footballer where they would rather be this summer representing their country the European Championships would always win out. The Olympics are not a priority for them.
Yes, in athletics, there is a European Championship at the end of June, but it is really for those people who won’t make the Olympics. No athlete would swap the Olympics for a European Championship.
You can understand quite easily why Arsene Wenger of Arsenal and Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson have been very dismissive of Olympic football.
I follow football and tennis throughout the year, and I know some good players have competed in both sports at the Olympics over the years. But generally I do not watch it and I do not try to find out how they are getting on.
People will get excited that Rafael Nadal is playing at the Olympics as they may not be able to get tickets to Wimbledon. I understand that – who wouldn’t want to see one of the best ever tennis players? David Beckham may well be in the Great Britain football side as one of the three over twenty-three players. It may be the last time to see Beckham play on an international stage, for many it might be the first time they have seen him play in the flesh – I cannot fault people for buying the tickets.
It just does not do anything for me personally.
Also I cannot take the players seriously. They are there for the wrong reasons. They want to be part of the Olympics because of what it means to everybody else, not because it means something special to them. I am sure many would rather be on their summer holidays. The Olympics is not such a meaningful occasion for them as it is to the majority of others competing in other sports such as rowing or cycling.
I am glad that football will act only as a sideshow to the main event. The highlight of the Olympics will, and always has been, the athletics. And this is exactly how it should be. They are the real stars of the show, and it belongs to them.
The only reason that the International Olympic Committee continues to give football a place in the games is the money that it makes. Football is the sport of the world and it is watched by billions around the world. Therefore if you give it a place in the biggest sporting event in the world people are going to pay to come and watch it. However this year football is the only sport that still has tickets available, whereas the gymnastics and athletics have all sold out.
But at the end of the day it is not up to me. Great Britain is competing at the Olympics whether I like it or not. I believe the country will get behind the team but only because it is being hosted in England. By the time the 2016 Olympics come around I do not believe anyone will be the slightest bit interested. I just hope that if we do somehow win a medal that it does not detract from the other lesser known sports. I know many journalists will rather write about the football as it is a sport they cover every week of every year not just every four years. It is a sport they know about. It is much easier to write about Wayne Rooney then an athlete in the shot-put who they have never heard of before.
For me I shall be watching the athletics, cycling and rowing. The sports that for me make the Olympics the Olympics.