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Battle for Olympic Players Heats Up
Reuters, July 23rd, 2008 4:16PM

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FIFA and Europe's top clubs remain at odds over the release of under-23 players for next month's Olympics in China. FIFA president Sepp Blatter issued a statement on Wednesday, saying "the release of players below the age of 23 has always been mandatory for all clubs. The same principle applies for Beijing 2008." But Bayern Munich president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, on behalf of the European Club Association insisted there "was no legal obligation" on clubs to release their players for next month's Olympic tournament.

While the dispute was unsettled, Lionel Messi remained with Barcelona instead of joining Argentina's team training for the Olympics. Brazil defender Rafinha left Schalke 04 after the German club repeatedly refused to release him for the Games. Diego did the same thing, bolting Werder Bremen for Brazil. The Brazilian federation criticized Real Madrid's decision to pull Robinho out of the squad on Wednesday. Robinho is 24 and therefore does not have to be released, according to FIFA rules.

The dispute centers on FIFA's International Match Calendar that dictates when players must be released for international matches. Age group competitions like the Olympics do not appear on the calendar. "As the Olympics are not included in the harmonized International Match Calendar, the obligation to release players for national team matches according to the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players does not apply," Rummenigge said. "We, therefore, support all clubs that currently face losing important players."

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