The Olympic Games come around every 4 years and are one of the most-watched sporting events on the planet. There are so many events that take place it can be hard to keep track. As a soccer fan, you want to know if soccer is one of the events that are part of the Olympics. I am happy to let you know that it is!
Soccer is in the Olympics and is an Olympic sport. Men’s soccer has been a part of the Olympics since 1900, and women’s soccer has been a part of the Olympics since 1996. The men’s competition includes 32 games and the women’s competition includes 26 games throughout the Olympic tournament.
Soccer has been in the Olympics since 1900, and there has only been one Olympic Games where soccer did not feature. Interestingly the International Olympic Committee(IOC) and FIFA disagree on whether the first two Olympic games that included soccer should even be recognized. But we’ll talk about that further on in this article.
When Soccer First Took Part in the Olympics
The modern Olympic Games have taken place almost every 4 years since 1896 (only canceled during the two World Wars), and soccer has been included in almost every Olympic Games since the second Olympic Games in 1900.
Soccer became an Olympic sport in 1900 when men’s soccer was included in the Summer Olympic Games for the first time. The only Olympic games not to include soccer were the 1932 Olympics.
The reason for this was because FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, wanted to promote their own event rather than allow teams to compete at the Olympics.
The first FIFA World Cup took place in 1930, with Uruguay ending up as the winners of the tournament. Rather than take attention away from this new tournament, FIFA dropped soccer from the 1932 Olympic games in Los Angeles. [source]
By the time the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany came around the IOC and FIFA had come to an agreement and allowed the inclusion of soccer again.
The 1900 and 1904 Games
The first two Olympic Games to include soccer, the 1900 and 1904 Games, are interesting because of FIFA’s insistence on not recognizing them as official tournaments despite the IOC recognizing them as the Olympic Games.
FIFA considers soccer only to have been an Olympic sport since 1908, whereas the IOC considers soccer to have been an Olympic sport since 1900. [source]
There are various reasons for this, but it mainly boils down to the fact that the soccer tournaments at the 1900 and 1904 Olympic games were considered “exhibition tournaments” while in the 1908 Olympic Games, soccer was a full medal tournament. The fact that FIFA didn’t exist as an organization before 1904 complicates their ability to recognize the tournaments of 1900 and 1904 as well. [source]
How Soccer Teams Qualify for the Olympics
So, recognizing that soccer is an Olympic sport and has been for over a century is important but how is it decided which nations can take part and which cannot?
To qualify for the Olympic Games a national soccer team has to finish as the winners, or amongst the top teams, in a regional qualifying tournament preceding the Olympic Games.
The specific tournament depends on the region the qualifying nation is from. The specific region also affects how many nations can qualify for the Olympic Games.
In men’s soccer the qualifying process for the Olympic Games looks like this:
- Nations from Africa compete in the CAF U-23 Cup of Nations. The teams who finish in the top 3 positions qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games
- Nations from Asia compete in the AFC U-23 Championship. The teams finishing in the top 3 positions qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games.
- Nations from Europe compete in the UEFA European U-21 Championship. The top 4 teams in this tournament all qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games.
- In North, Central America and the Caribbean teams compete in the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship. The top 2 teams qualify for the upcoming Olympics.
- In Oceania, nations compete in the OFC Men’s Olympic Tournament. Only the top team qualifies for the upcoming Olympic Games.
- In South America, nations compete in the CONMEBOL Pre-Olympic Tournament. The top 2 teams qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games. [source]
The qualifying process for women’s soccer at the Olympic Games operates as follows:
- Nations from Africa compete in a home-and-away series format consisting of four qualifying rounds. The team who finishes first automatically qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games while the team finishing second play against the second-place team from South America to decide which team qualifies for the upcoming Olympic Games.
- Nations from Asia compete in the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. The teams finishing in the top 2 positions qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games.
- Nations from Europe compete in the FIFA Women’s World Cup to decide which teams qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games. The top 3 European teams in this tournament all qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games.
- In North, Central America and the Caribbean teams compete in a qualifying championship which precedes the Olympic Games. The top 2 teams qualify for the upcoming Olympics.
- In Oceania, nations compete in the OFC Women’s Nations Cup. Only the top team in this tournament qualifies for the upcoming Olympic Games.
- In South America, nations compete in the Copa America preceding the Olympic Games. The top team in this tournament automatically qualifies for the upcoming Olympic Games. while the second-place team plays in an intercontinental play-off against the second-placed team from Africa to decide which team qualifies for the upcoming Olympic Games. [source]
With both the men’s and women’s qualifying processes it’s important to note that the host nation’s team automatically qualifies for the Olympic soccer tournament.
As you can see, some regions use tournaments that are already taking place to decide which teams qualify for the Olympics while other regions organize a stand-alone tournament to determine which nations qualify for the Olympic soccer tournament.
Winners of the Olympic Soccer Tournaments
I find it really interesting to look back at which teams have historically done well at different soccer tournaments. As I looked back at which teams had won the first soccer Olympics and which team had the most medals, I was surprised by what I found.
The first Olympic soccer tournament was won by Great Britain in 1900. Great Britain beat France in the final in Paris, and Belgium came in third place. [source]
What is interesting about this result is that each country sent a local club team to represent the nation rather than a national team. Although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognizes Great Britain, France, and Belgium as being the top 3 teams in the tournament, the games were actually played by 3 club teams.
- Upton Park FC represented Great Britain
- Club Français represented France
- and a group of players from the Université libre de Bruxelles represented Belgium. [source]
The first Olympic women’s soccer tournament was won by the USA in 1996. The USA beat China in the final while Norway came in third place.
Soccer Team With Most Olympic Gold Medals
In the men’s soccer tournament at the Olympic Games, Hungary has won the gold medal more times than any other nation. They have won the gold medal 3 times, a silver medal once, and the bronze medal once.
This was also interesting as in modern-day soccer Hungary is not considered a top-level team. However, historically they have a very good record as you can see by the number of times they won the soccer tournament at the Olympics.
In the women’s soccer tournament at the Olympic games, the USA has won more gold medals than any other nation. The USA has won the gold medal 4 times, and the silver medal once.
This result is less surprising as the US women’s soccer team has long been one of the best national teams and is often competing to first place in any tournament or competition.
Check out this video below of the 10 best goals scored at an Olympic soccer game.
The Rules of Olympic Soccer
The rules for Olympic soccer games are almost entirely the same as the rules for any professional soccer game. For example, an Olympic soccer game lasts for 90 minutes plus overtime if needed and an Olympic soccer field must meet the same requirements as any other soccer field.
To find out more about the rules of soccer click here to check out my Simple and Easy to Understand Guide to the Rules of Soccer. Or to find out more about the size and dimensions of a soccer field click here to go to another one of my articles explaining all you need to know.
The only difference in the rules is that there is an age limit regarding which players are eligible to take part in the tournament.
I have an article explaining the age limit for Olympic soccer and the reason for it in detail here, but to provide a basic overview of the age limit, what you need to know is that:
- Only 3 players over the age of 23 are allowed to compete for each team
- and the reason for this is to prevent the Olympic soccer tournament from being too similar to the FIFA World Cup. As I mentioned above, find out more about the age limit by clicking here.
Can Professional Players Play in the Olympics?
One last thing I wanted to look at is the involvement of professional soccer players in the Olympics.
Prior to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona professional soccer players were not allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. The 1992 Olympic Games was the first time the IOC allowed professional players to compete but enforced an age limit on the players who could participate. [source]
This age limit of 23, that I mentioned above, was an agreement between the IOC and FIFA which paved the way for professional players to compete.
However, FIFA still does not consider the Olympics as a full soccer tournament and therefore many of the top players do not compete in the competition as the teams are not under any obligation to send their best players.
I hope this article has given you the answers you were looking for and you now feel much better informed about soccer at the Olympics.
If you are interested in more soccer information:
Click here to go to my article on Soccer Positions and find out everything you wanted to know about this.
Or click here to see my top 21 Soccer Tips that every player should know.