Olympic Football in London
As the clock at Trafalgar Square ticks down the minutes until the start of the London Olympic Games, fans are starting to feel the excitement. As final preparations take place, the Olympic site is starting to look hospitable – the grass is going down on the many verges around the stream that runs through the park as the finishing touches are made to the Olympic village – there is still one sport which has failed to capture the same amount of excitement. The football.
With the 2012 European Football Championships taking place earlier in the summer, a lot of fans will have had their full share of competitive football in an already busy schedule. Yet this only goes part of the way to explaining why there are still over a million tickets to be sold for this event while less glamorous sports are already sold out.
On first viewing, the Olympic football tournament gives British fans a great chance to take place in the games without the costly need to visit the capital. With matches scheduled for Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Coventry and Cardiff, fans from all over Britain are able to attend a match, yet many have chosen to stay at home. The tournament is devoid of many of the powerhouses of world football – there are no Germany, no France, no Argentina – while minor footballing nations such as Belarus, United Arab Emirates and Gabon are present. A possible explanation is the unwillingness of fans to purchase tickets in advance without knowing who they would get to see.
Another reason for the poor take-up, in the UK at least, is the feeling that football does not belong. Partly because Britain has not entered a team since 1960, the fans do not feel an affiliation to the competition in the same way that Brazilians or Argentinians do. But there is also snobbery from both sides. Non-football fans do not see professional football as a part of the Olympic tradition. The Olympics is heralded as the pinnacle of sport, while for football, the World Cup is the pinnacle. On the other hand, football fans see the event as a lesser quality than top international games at the World Cup or European Championships.
But with tickets back on sale, at least for a while, fans of Olympic football have the chance to go and see whichever stars turn up for the games. While there will be no Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, perhaps the next generation of player will come through. Should all tickets be snapped up, then the Organisers will surely feel satisfied with their work. And, come the 11th August, 18 young men and 18 young women will be going home with an Olympic Gold Medal for football.