How the Olympics and football can bring a young team and a nation together
Olympics can be a make or break event for many teams, countries, and their athletes. There are in all 32 sports in the Olympic Games, and football is one such sport that has been an integral part of the Games throughout its 120-year history. A football competition in the Olympic Games consists of 16 teams in the men’s competition. These teams come from 6 different confederations of the world and are only allowed to play their Under-23 squads at the tournament.
However, three over-age players are also allowed to participate for each side. Meanwhile, in the women’s competition, there is no such age limit on the squads.
The rules of football at the Olympic Games were altered because powerful footballing nations such as Uruguay and Italy always fielded their strongest sides at the Olympics, which meant that the other teams from the Oceanic and Asian confederations could not challenge these top teams. Hence, it was decided before the 1992 Olympic Games, that only the Under-23 players will compete.
This meant that all the 16 nations competing in the tournament will have the chance to field their best young talent at the big stage. Apparently, this change in the regulations for the squads led to smaller nations such as Cameroon and Nigeria performing well at the Games. The level of competition was hence increased at the Games.
But what does it mean for the smaller nations to bag the medals at the Games? Does it mean anything at all given the importance the other footballing competitions such as the FIFA World Cup and even the European and South American continental competitions possess? Does it matter to the top nations if they are winning in the Olympics or not? Can winning a medal bring the young players and the nation together? These are some of the questions that will be answered in this article.
So, what could winning a medal at the Olympic Games mean to the minnow nations?
Winning an international competition where the best teams from all the six confederations feature should be a very proud moment for the minnow footballing nations. It gives them an opportunity to compete with the best.
However, not all teams send their best players to the games. Minnow nations have that little advantage over the best footballing nations. It is their chance to win an international competition. When they do manage to win, it is a huge achievement for them as they win a medal for their country. This adds to their country’s medal tally and it gets them the success they deserve.
When looking at it individually, it could also get the players a chance to get themselves at one of the best clubs in the world. Hence, there is always a lot to play for.
Can winning a medal bring the young players and the nation together?
There have been times when young players who have never seen the international stage have come out at the Games and played like champions. The best example is that of the last gold medal winners, Mexico, whose country was going through a tough phase when they went to the 2012 London Olympics.
But, when Oribe Peralta’s brace secured the gold medal, the country rejoiced to the achievements of the team. They were singing a song at the Wembley, in their own country, in the restaurant and in the streets, “Cielito Lindo: Ay, ay, ay, ay. Canta, no llores…." which means ‘sing, don’t cry’.
The country celebrated into the night and came to see the players when they returned home with the first medal in football in their history, the Mexicans screamed “Viva Mexico”.
Can a medal victory at the Olympic Games unite a nation?
It can unite a nation as we have seen over the years. The Uruguay side of the 1924 and 1928 Olympics was famous for winning two consecutive medals and that too away from their homeland in Europe. It was a historic period for their country as South America was not considered an integral part of world football. But with the win, they made their name as a nation.
This also helped them in other fields, as countries had started trade and commerce with them. The win also united the nation as it brought more young players into the game which led to them performing well at the World Cup as well.
Another such example is that of Hungary, who have won the Olympic gold thrice. The nation was never known for its football but once they won their first gold in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, the expectations of the nation increased. With Ferenc Puskas as their main man, the nation got behind the team.
The team famously thrashed England 7-1 in 1954. Hungary’s people were delighted with their performances and stood united whenever the team played.