Australia and Olympic Football
Australia entered a men’s football team in Melbourne 1956 but did not compete again until Seoul 1988. Since then, Australia has contested every men’s Olympic football competition up until the London 2012 Games where they failed to qualify a team. The best result was fourth in Barcelona 1992.
Women’s football was added to the Olympic program in 1996 and Australia began competing in Sydney 2000. Australia placed fifth in Athens 2004 but did not qualify for Beijing 2008.
In May 2010 the Matildas won Asia’s biggest football prize, defeating North Korea on penalties to win the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. Qualifying for the event was a small victory, let alone claiming the title. Despite this success they too failed to qualify a team for the London 2012 Games.
The “world game” made its Olympic debut in Paris 1900, along with water polo, rugby, cricket, polo and tug-of-war. Since its introduction, football has missed featuring on the Olympic program only once, at Los Angeles 1932.
After World War II, the state-supported teams from Communist countries were permitted to play. The strength of those Eastern Bloc teams is evidenced by their credible performances in the World Cups, against the fully professional teams from Western Europe and South America soon after competing in the Olympics. In 1996 and 2000, the emergence of African football was seen with the gold medals going to Ghana in Atlanta and Cameroon in Sydney.
The eligibility criteria for Olympic football teams are constantly being debated. Olympic competition was initially limited to amateurs. In 1984 professional players from Europe and South America were restricted from playing Olympic football if they had competed in a World Cup. This was changed in 1992 with the decision to implement an age limit of 23, regardless of professional or amateur status. Since 1996 three over-age players could be added to each squad. These are the constraints in place for teams competing in London 2012, although there has been recent FIFA lobbying to lower the age-limit to 21. None of these restrictions apply to women’s football teams.
Each nation can bring a squad of 11 players and 7 substitutes to the Games. The men’s tournament comprises 16 teams and the women’s 12. There are four pools of four teams in the men’s tournament with the top two teams in each pool progressing to the quarter-finals. The women have two pools of six teams with the top two teams in each pool after the preliminary matches progressing to the semi-finals.