What happens to Olympic soccer age limit after one-year postponement?

Brazil's Paulinho, right, celebrates with teammate Pedrinho after scoring his side's first goal against Argentina during a South America Olympic qualifying U23 soccer match at the Alfonso Lopez stadium in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. (Fernando Vergara/AP)

Among the many questions left to be answered in the wake of the Tokyo Olympic postponement to 2021 is does the schedule change affect the men’s soccer competition.

Olympic men’s soccer qualifying has been an under-23 competition since 1992. So has the Olympic men’s tournament although, beginning in 1996, teams that qualified for the games were allowed to field three players over the age limit.

“Does that mean the ‘current’ u23 players remain ‘under 23’ for the event in 2021?! Brutal if not,” tweeted former U.S. international Taylor Twellman, now an ESPN pundit.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s teams have already qualified, with only CONCACAF yet to decide its two entries. The CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, scheduled to run from March 20 to April 1 in Guadalajara, Mexico, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Only players born 1997 or later were eligible for the 2020 qualifying tournament.

Presumably that will not change despite the change in the games schedule given it is all the same qualifying tournament. But with news still fresh Tuesday, FIFA offered only a general comment.

“FIFA firmly believes that the health and well-being of all individuals involved in sporting activities should always be the highest priority, and as such we welcome today’s IOC decision,” a FIFA spokesman said in response to a question about age limits.

“Further to the IOC’s decision, FIFA will work with relevant stake-holders to address all key matters related to this rescheduling.”

Canada Soccer said it had “no indication yet for the men’s tournament.”

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, the Ivory Coast, New Zealand, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Spain have already qualified and will join host Japan at the Olympics.

Canada named its 50-man provisional roster but did not get around to announcing its final 20-man roster because of the CONCACAF postponement. The Canadians were drawn in Group B at the CONCACAF qualifier. Group A featured Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

Montreal Impact midfielder Shamit Shome, born in 1997, was on the Canadian provisional roster. He hopes nothing changes in terms of the rules.

“For me it would be a dream to play in the Olympics … Hopefully they keep the U23 rule alive in terms of letting ’97-born players play in that,” he said. “I’m excited. So hopefully once this gets sorted out, I can be a part of that qualification tournament and hopefully we can do something special as Canadians and make it to the Olympics for the first time, I think, in a long ,long time for soccer.”

Canada has taken part in just two of the 24 Olympic men’s soccer competitions and has failed to qualify for the last eight Olympics. Its last participation came in 1984 in Los Angeles.

Unlike the men, the Olympic women’s soccer competition is open to all ages. The Canadian women qualified for Tokyo by virtue of beating Costa Rica in the semifinal of their Olympic qualifier in February in California.

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