The men’s soccer tournament at the Summer Olympics is restricted to under-23s, as part of a drive to preserve the FIFA World Cup’s status as the men’s game’s premier international event.
First held at the 1900 Olympics in Paris, the men’s soccer competition was limited to amateur players until the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, when professionals were allowed to take part. However, to ensure the hegemony of FIFA’s flagship tournament, it was agreed that nations from Europe and South America – the globe’s strongest footballing continents – would only be able to pick players who had never appeared at a World Cup. The no-World Cup requirement was then lifted for European and South Americans ahead of Barcelona 1992, but in exchange the tournament was limited to under-23s. Four years later, at Atlanta 1996, this age restriction was modified to allow participating nations to also include three overage players in their squad. Due to the 12-month delay to the 2020 Games, this summer’s men’s soccer tournament will actually be an under-24 competition. This is because early last year, following the announcement that the Tokyo Olympics had been postponed until 2021, FIFA confirmed that the eligibility cut-off point originally established for the 2020 event would not be changed. To compete in Japan, non-overage players must have been born on or after 1 January 1997. The under-23 rule doesn’t apply to the women’s Olympic football tournament, which first took place at the ’96 Games.