Football at the Olympics – A Brief History Lesson

Football is a very popular sport which many fans, all over the world, love to watch and participate in. Some prefer recreational matches on the weekend while others are passionate fans who will follow their teams through good and bad times.

Football has been an official sport at the Olympic Games for a long time. Here is a brief history lesson of football and the Olympic Games.

The Early Days

It might not seem like it, but football wasn’t really a popular sport in 1896, when the first Olympic Games took place. There are wild stories of unofficial matches played between various Greek cities, yet those stories are difficult to confirm.

The years 1900 and 1904 saw some tournaments, but there were far too few teams for the competitions to attract attention. 1906 had a tournament in the Intercalated Games, which ended in a Denmark victory over Athens, 9 to 0. None of the three tournaments are recognized by FIFA, even though the International Olympic Committee recognizes the 1900 and 1904 ones.

Tournaments in 1908, 1912 and up to 1928 saw various national teams which were not considered great at the time to have amazing scores and victories. This is due to the unbalanced differences between the teams, some players scoring ten goals per match. Things changed after the first ever World Cup.

The Middle Days – Post First World Cup

Once the first FIFA World Cup took place in 1930, things changed around the Olympic games. The tournament was not played at the 1932 Olympic Games, in order to promote other sports like American football, yet it returned in 1936, with some controversies regarding the final match. Peru, a finalist, walked out of the competition, after a contested victory over Austria.

The quality of the Olympic Games football matches and the World Cup ones were very much apart, with professionals being allowed in the World Cup, amateur in the Olympic Games. This, however, was not really fair, as many Eastern Bloc countries had sponsored athletes, still considered amateurs, and they dominated the football matches. From 1948 to 1980, 23 out of 28 medals went to the Eastern Bloc countries.

Modernization – New Standards and Rules

Following the obvious unbalanced rules and regulations of football in the Olympic Games, things took a turn in 1984. Players other than those from the UEFA and CONMEBOL were allowed to be professionals, while countries who are a part of UEFA and CONMEBOL had to send players who did not participate in the World Cup.

1992 and 1996 saw more regulations, like Olympic Games players being under 23 with 3 players over 23 years of age. 1996 also saw the addition of a Women’s Tournament, which was a record-breaking event, having the largest crowd to see a women’s sports event at the time.

No major changes took place since the 1996 Olympics. Some of the major teams and countries which were strong in the UEFA and World Cup competition regularly produced poor results due to the amateur requirements of the Olympic Games.

This is a brief history lesson on football and the Olympic Games. What started off as a very unbalanced competition with clear favorites and many controversies and disputes, is today a very prestigious event, especially for younger players.