Why Does Olympic Soccer Have An Age Limit?

Every four years the Olympic games come with a barrage of games but one that gets the attention the most has to be the Olympic soccer event played by both the men’s and women’s national soccer teams of countries who participate at the Olympic Games.

Although some of these countries will have to play qualification games before they qualify as there is a limited number of slots compared to other individual games.

Unlike the FIFA World Cup which gets attention and a huge profile ahead of the tournament, the Olympic soccer game can only dream of such attention, also unlike the FIFA World Cup has no age limit, the Olympic games soccer event has an age limit for players that will participate in it.

The situation raises curiosity in the minds of soccer fans who wonder why there is an age limit to soccer players who can represent their countries in the Olympic soccer game, follow us as we find out in this article.

Why Does Olympic Soccer Have An Age Limit?

Why Does Olympic Soccer Have An Age Limit?
Argentinian forwards Lionel Messi (L) and Sergio Aguero gold medal pose during the men’s Olympic football tournament medal ceremony at the national stadium in Beijing during the Men’s Final between Nigeria and Argentina at the National Stadium on Day 15 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 23, 2008, in Beijing, China. (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

So it’s been established that right from the beginning, there has been a sort of limitation as regards the eligibility of players that feature at the Olympics soccer games. This is due to the World governing body for soccer FIFA, trying to make its competition, the FIFA  World Cup bigger than the International Olympics Committee (IOC) soccer event.

Professional players were barred from representing their countries at the Olympics Soccer event to make it very distinct from the FIFA World Cup as FIFA aimed to make it the highest international soccer tournament.

However, this remained till the 1984 Olympics games when professional soccer players were finally allowed to play but with the exception that they must not have played at the FIFA World Cup beforehand.

What this meant was that any professional player who had featured at the FIFA World Cup before wasn’t allowed to play while the rule was tweaked in 1988 when players who had played at the FIFA World Cup but had not completed 90 minutes in any match at the world cup were allowed to participate and compete.

When Was Age Limit Introduced To the Olympics Soccer?

The age limit at the Olympics soccer event was not introduced until 1993 as there were other ways of introducing the difference between the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics soccer event.

However, there was a need to maintain the FIFA World Cup’s number of soccer competitions in the World and to also not make the Olympics soccer look like another World cup every two years from the previous world cup.

Similarly, there was the issue of the schedule for players who will still have to play the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup along with their club soccer games.

Previously, IOC and FIFA prevented UEFA and CONMEBOL countries from fielding senior national team players while other confederations like the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Confederation of Africa Football (CAF), and others did so.

This was because all the FIFA World Cup winners had come from UEFA and CONMEBOL and this has reflected in the result and winners of the Olympic soccer Gold medal.

Meanwhile, the U23 tag was introduced in 1992 at the Barcelona games for the Olympics soccer event which meant that players above the age of 23 were not permitted.

However, each soccer team was permitted to include three overage players to their teams irrespective of whether they had previously played at the FIFA World Cup. The rule to allow players above 23 in Olympics soccer didn’t emerge in 1992 but four years later in 1996.

The limit choice of the age 23 was with the UEFA Nations in mind as their qualifiers for the Olympics soccer event were initially held two years before the Olympics.

Therefore, players who played at the UEFA Euro u21 championship the two years before would still remain eligible age-wise to feature at the main Olympics soccer event by the time it will hold.

Meanwhile, the qualifiers for Euro participants now happen a year before the Olympics games to make it align more with the competition. Furthermore, the ruleset for the Olympics soccer event has not been changed since 1996 except for the last Tokyo 2021 Olympic games when the limit was put at 24 due to the delay owing to the covid-19 pandemic.

When Was Soccer Added To The Olympic Games?

Asides from the inaugural games in 1896, Olympic games have always included soccer, the only other exception was in 1932 when there was a Promotion for the first FIFA World Cup tournament.

Then, there was no age limit for soccer at the Olympics and it was limited to men’s national team. The first appearance of a female national team did not happen until the Atlanta games in 1996.

So why didn’t female national soccer teams play at the Summer Olympics until 1996? That’s a question we will try to answer subsequently but for now let’s dig further to know why there is an age limit for Olympics soccer games.

The background check on soccer at the summer Olympics showed that as at the first modern Olympics in 1896, there was no official football tournament and there was none as well internationally as international football competitions between countries were not something that was fancied.

However, by 1900, soccer was played at the Olympics although it was played by scratch teams and club sides, same happened in 1904 but they were only recognized by the IOC but not FIFA.

From the start though, the International Olympics Committee prevented countries from fielding their main national teams at the soccer event at the Olympics which meant that countries participated with amateurs.

Meanwhile, Jules Rimet’s proposal for an international soccer competition in 1929 saw FIFA withdraw soccer from the Olympic games in Los Angeles in 1932 but it will later return in an eventful 1936 Olympics.


Where Do The Female Olympic Soccer Fit In This Equation?

Surprisingly, the women’s team didn’t have any limitations as regards the age of players permitted to play in the Olympic games and soccer events. Unlike other sporting events at the Olympics games, female soccer was not on the program’s list until 1996.

The 1996 Summer Olympics games in Atlanta marked a further breakthrough for the women’s game as the soccer event was introduced without any restrictions. This was just a few years after the first FIFA Women’s world cup in 1991 because FIFA didn’t initially pay attention to the women’s games until then, there wasn’t an issue of shared attention between the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Olympics soccer women’s event.

Also, the women’s Soccer game was seen as young and needed to be developed while the competitiveness of the games in female football was seen as equal hence no need for age limitations.

Therefore, the women’s Soccer game has been open and free for all ages since then and is considered a full international soccer tournament but right behind the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Has The Age Limit Affected Olympics Soccer?

Obviously as one of the reasons for the introduction of limitations from the start has been the inequality of competitiveness among participating countries, there has been a more diversified pool of winners for the Olympics soccer event compared to the FIFA World Cup.

For a start, there has always been just the European and South Americans winning the world cup and getting to the final of the showpiece event but with the Olympics soccer event there has been a difference.

Two African countries have won the Gold medal starting with Nigeria in 1996 and then Cameroon in 2000. Mexico from the North American continent has won it once, while Brazil who is the record winner of the FIFA World Cup at the men’s tournament with five has only managed to win the Olympics soccer event gold twice.

Both of their triumphs have come in the last two Olympics in Rio De Janeiro and the Tokyo 2020 games.

What Does The Future Hold for the Age Limit For Olympics Soccer?

If you are thinking that the age limit rule for the Olympic soccer game would be eliminated for future Olympic Games then scratch that, in fact, the most likely scenario is that the Olympic Games in the future may go ahead without soccer games.

This is because of the growing tight schedules for soccer players. The level of competitiveness has been managed to get leveled across the board but what was tried to be avoided by having star players out of the Olympics is gradually been eroded although FIFA World Cup has managed to keep its profile as the biggest soccer event in the world.

This is because the biggest and best world soccer players are reserved for every four years and excluded from the Olympic soccer event. Furthermore, the youngsters are also becoming big stars before 23, Kylian Mbappe became a World Cup winner as a teenager and also plays over 50 games every Calendar year for both the national team and the club side.

Therefore, in conclusion, the age limit at the Olympics soccer event will stay as long as the soccer event remains on the Olympic games program although expect soccer at the Olympic games to not be there for long either.


Who won the first soccer Olympics?

On October 19, 1908, at White City Stadium in front of an estimated 2,000 spectators, Denmark cruised to a 9-0 victory over France B courtesy of Vilhelm Wolfhagen’s four goals.

How many over-age players are allowed in Olympic soccer?

3 Over age players

Three overage players are eligible to play in each team during the Olympics.

How are the Olympic soccer teams picked?

The Olympic soccer tournament requires participating nations to qualify from their respective regions. Each regional body chooses for itself how qualifying takes place. The Olympic group draws: Based on a seeded random draw, the teams who make it to the Olympics are divided into various groups.

How many soccer teams participate in the Olympic games?

16 teams

There is a specific number of teams that get past the group stage in Olympic soccer. There are 16 teams competing in men’s soccer at the summer games. Meanwhile, Summer Olympics features 12 women’s teams.

What is the difference between the Olympics and World Cup?

The male soccer competition at the Olympics features 16 participants, whereas FIFA World Cup features 32 national teams. This enables the World Cup to run for more than a month, giving spectators lots of chances to support their respective nations.

Have Messi and Ronaldo ever played in the Olympics?


Both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have previously represented their nations at the Olympics. The Portuguese superstar played in the Athens 2004 Olympics, while the Argentine played in Beijing 2008.




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