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It is a question that has been asked many times. The Olympic Games are viewed as the platform that will help the game develop across the world through increased awareness and investment. Here I will investigate to find the answer.
The Summer Olympics has a limit of 10,500 athletes and 310 events (an event being a competition that leads to award of medals so for example athletics has 47 events) due to the growing cost of hosting The Games. Currently this allocation is full resulting in intense competition to be part of this huge international sporting event. To earn a space in The Olympic Programme any new sport such as futsal has to demonstrate it brings more value than those already in and those bidding to be included.
The next opportunity for futsal to be in an Olympic Games is in 2024 with 2017 the date for the announcement of what sports will be included. To be considered by The International Olympic Committee (IOC) a sport must meet certain criterion. These are defined in the Olympic Charter as been widely practiced by men in at least 75 countries and on 4 continents, and by women in no fewer than 40 countries and on 3 continents.
FIFA has 191 members overseeing futsal competitions for men (and 115 entering qualifying for 2012 World Cup) and 55 for women at last count, spread across the globe. These members need to be recognised by their National Olympic Associations to count and virtually all of FIFA members are so futsal passes this first test.
The next step in the bidding process is a sport must show the added value it will bring which is evaluated through nine unique categoriesthat are as follows; General overview, history and tradition, universality, popularity, governance, athletes, development, transparency and fairness on the field, and finance. Futsal presents a strong case in all these areas so it is surprising that it is not already an Olympic Sport, but as will be seen further in this post it is more complicated than just being judged on its merits.
I would like to highlight one area where futsal’s bid could be strengthened and that is by having an official Women’s World Cup. Every year there is a FIFA endorsed Torneo Mundial Feminino (Women’s World Tournament). FIFA could easily correct this unacceptable situation by taking control of the organisation of this event.
In 2002 futsal was denied entry to Beijing 2008 and these were the reasons given;
Now I will look at each of these comments in turn. This statement was made over 12 years ago and since that time futsal has grown considerably, both in terms of participation numbers and global spread. This is set to continue and there remains plenty of room still for expansion. I believe that low participation levels would no longer be an issue.
Although futsal purists would argue that futsal is a distinct game from football, the comment regarding not including sports of a similar nature could be a stumbling block. It was thought that futsal could be included as a discipline of football alongside the 11-a-side game, just like indoor and beach are disciplines of volleyball, but from this statement it seems unlikely.
Another reason why futsal would probably have to substitute football rather than take the place of another sport is the amount of space football occupies. 11-a-side football requires space for 504 athletes, that is just under 5% of the 10,500 athlete limit for only 2 events out of the 310 permitted.
If we presume that both the futsal men’s and women’s tournaments would feature at least 12 teams each and with 14 players per squad, that would mean futsal would require space for 336 athletes or just over 3% of the athlete allocation.Adding these together would take 8% of the total and it would seem impossible that The IOC would allow this for just 4 events, especially for a sport where the Olympics is not the most important championship. It can be concluded that futsal’s only route in is to compete against football for a place in the Olympic Games (also FIFA wants beach football in but I am assuming that futsal’s higher and wider participation levels gives it priority).
Many people would see substituting football for futsal as a valid proposition. 11-a-side football already has the FIFA World Cup, the only sporting event that is bigger than The Olympics. For this to happen it would need the approval of FIFA and The IOC.The only advantage I see for football being an Olympic sport is that it creates more attention and investment but it is so huge I’m not sure the effect is so noticeable or of importance for the game or for FIFA.
FIFA have restricted men’s football at the Olympics to U23s plus 3 overage players, they even tried and failed to make it U21s only, to prevent any of football’s star players featuring. These restrictions are implemented to prevent the best players from competing and it becoming the de facto world championship tournament over The FIFA World Cup, FIFA’s main revenue generator accounting for around 90% of their total income. So FIFA might not be so opposed to football disappearing from The Olympics.
For the same reasons as with football it could be assumed that FIFA might not wish to allow an unrestricted Olympic futsal competition. The women 11-a-side play without age restrictions at the Olympics, suggesting in this case they don’t mind. However, this was decided when it was included for the first time 1996 but with the growth of the women’s game since then it is possible they regret that now. In my opinion FIFA would not worry for futsal to be included or want restrictions because their focus is completely on protecting their dominant revenue source of football and futsal is a second thought at best.
Making the assumption that FIFA would be happy to swap football for futsal the other party that must agree is The IOC. Again, looking at the financial implications is the key to calculating their opinion and the outlook is not positive.The IOC is clear that the main criteria for considering new sports is that they bring additional value, specifically media and public interest. Futsal will never be able compete with football on these aspects.
At London 2012 football sold 1.9 million tickets, just short of 25% of all tickets sold at the games. Having the world’s most popular sport creates more attention which will add value to the Olympic sponsorship and broadcasting deals. The IOC is not going to be keen to lose these sources of revenue and neither would the cities who find the costs of hosting prohibitive.
It is claimed by a member of FIFA’s Futsal Committee that The IOC would include futsal in return for FIFA allowing the removal of age restrictions for the men’s 11-a-side but, as mentioned previously, FIFA would never agree to this.
The last comment in the statement mentions the requirement for a separate venue. It would be thought that futsal could share a venue with another indoor sport. The obvious choice would be handball but, for example, at London 2012 that would mean having to find another location for modern pentathlon. The London games used four indoor venues, two located and built in the Olympic Park and two existing venues located in other parts of London. It would be hoped that futsal could be somehow accommodated in one of these alongside other sports to minimise costs.
There are a couple of other routes futsal could try to become an Olympic sport. To avoid the issues with FIFA it could be included as a new sport under Asociación Mundial de Fútbol de Salón (AMF), a separate international governing body that exists for futsal which uses more traditional rules. However, this has several issues.
Currently the AMF is not recognised as an international federation by the IOC and it sees FIFA as the governor of futsal, both of which would have to change. Further it does not meet the criterion of having enough national associations and many of these are not recognised by their National Olympic Associations which reduces the number further.
Ignoring this, it would still not have many of the necessities when presenting its bid at the next stage such as governance and anti-doping controls, which futsal has being part of FIFA. Plus it doesn’t address the commission’s concern of having two similar sports. As long as FIFA governs futsal, which it is unimaginable seeing them give up even if it appears they take little interest, the possibility of AMF Futsal in The Olympics appears impossible.
Another suggestion is that futsal tries to enter the Winter Olympics, especially as in contrast to the Summer Event there are no limits on athletes and event numbers. However, as FIFA is recognised as a summer federation it would not be permitted under the Olympic Charter currently.
David Owen, a sports journalist, has suggested that the Winter Olympics needs to be revolutionised. It is not a global event because many countries don’t have much snow or ice and this means it is much less lucrative than its summer counterpart for both The IOC and hosting city. He proposes that popular indoor sports such as badminton, boxing, volleyball could be included in the Winter Games. I think it is a good idea, especially when popular sports such as futsal, karate and squash aren’t part of The Games; But it would take a huge change in perspective for such a radical reorganisation to be approved by The IOC’s decision makers.
Currently, futsal is caught in the middle of a tug of war between the IOC and FIFA as they battle to maximise the revenues they can earn from 11-a-side football. The consequence being futsal is a long way from becoming an Olympic Sport.
The fact that it did not succeed in becoming a demonstration sport for Rio 2016 in Brazil highlights this. A demonstration sport is carried out the same as Olympic Sports but without medals, usually to promote a local sport from the host country or to gauge interest and support for the sport. This seems an ideal first step for futsal but it has not even achieved this in the country where it is most popular and well known than anywhere else.
In my opinion we should forget the Olympic dream, or at least put it on hold. Maybe in the future when the sport has become more established across the world we can again think again about the possibility. For now let’s continue to develop our sport, focusing on both increasing participation and interest so more people can enjoy the wonderful game of futsal.
Click Here to read an interview with UEFA.com about Baku Utd.