FIFA competitions, or at least the lion’s share of them, traditionally take place in the second half of any given calendar year. 2008 is no different. First up was the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Marseille 2008 on the sands of southern France between 17 and 27 July when there was no shortage of spectacular matches or stunning strikes. The eyes of the world then shifted to Beijing for the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments (6-23 August) but there will be no let-up in the action in the rest of 2008 either, with one tournament after another. First of all, the world’s futsal elite will be in Brazil between 30 September and 19 October to determine the new world champion before the focus moves to New Zealand and the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup from 28 October to 16 November. And then, just a few days later, Chile will play host to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup between 19 November and 7 December. Last but by no means least, the FIFA Club World Cup will take centre stage in Japan between 11 and 21 December. I have no doubt whatsoever that these four tournaments will follow the lead of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup and the Olympic Football Tournaments and give us fascinating, thrilling matches with perfect organisation, a peaceful atmosphere and many enthusiastic spectators.
Of all the tournaments in 2008, however, it is to the Olympic Football Tournaments that I would like to give a special mention, especially as FIFA’s oldest competition this year celebrated its 100th anniversary in the Chinese capital. Olympic football is always a huge draw for the fans, often leaving other sports such as athletics, swimming and gymnastics in the shade.
In 1908, 2,000 fans flocked to London’s White City Stadium for the opening match of the first official Olympic Football Tournament held under the aegis of FIFA. Football had been a demonstration sport in 1900 and 1904, after which it became the first team sport to be included in the Olympic family. At the Games in Atlanta 88 years later, around 1.4 million fans filled the stadiums at an average of more than 40,000 per matchday. In 1968, the match for third place in the Olympic Football Tournament in Mexico City drew 105,000 fans, and in Sydney in 2000, that record was nearly matched with 104,000 watching the final. And in 2008?
The Men’s Olympic Football Tournament has been a U-23 tournament since 1992. The competition has not lost any of its attraction, Action-packed calendar though – on the contrary. Many leading players yearn to play in the Olympics, and Beijing 2008 has been no different, with 16 teams doing battle for gold, silver and bronze. And then there is the women’s tournament, which was first introduced to the Olympics in 1996. Beijing 2008 is the first time that the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament has featured 12 teams — yet more proof of the huge strides taken by the women’s game. For the Game. For the World.