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Friday August 8, 2008

Messi allowed to play for Argentina in the Olympics

BARCELONA finally allowed Lionel Messi to play in the Olympics and the Argentinian superstar celebrated by grabbing the opening goal in his team's match against Ivory Coast yesterday.

“We have decided to let Leo Messi play in the Olympics,” Barcelona technical secretary Txiki Begiristain said in the Spanish city.

The decision was made after Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola had held talks with the player and came despite the Spanish giants winning their battle with FIFA when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that clubs were free to prevent their players from taking part in the Games.

German sides Werder Bremen and Schalke 04 also decided to let their Brazilian stars – Diego and Rafinha respectively – play at the Olympics but at a price.

With the law on their side, and with the Bundesliga season starting on Aug 15, the clubs said they would allow the duo to stay providing Brazil's Football Federation pay the players' wages.

Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Ivory Coast during the Group A Men's Soccer match at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Shanghai, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008. - AP Photo/Armando Franca

They also insist that there will be an additional fee and the players' insurance must be paid.

Meanwhile, IOC supremo Jacques Rogge and football boss Joseph Blatter said yesterday that the CAS ruling has put football in danger of losing its prominent position at the Olympics.

“It's really sad to see such a decision was handed down, putting in danger the entire football tournament,” said Blatter.

“We could do beach soccer or a five-a-side tournament. That would be very sad and the world would not understand it.”

The CAS decision was a huge embarrassment for FIFA and confirmed the view of the clubs that they don't have to release players to the Under-23 Olympic event, with each team allowed only three older players.

The CAS judges dismissed FIFA’s claim that there was an obligation to release players based on an agreement between FIFA and the clubs. The CAS also said that the Olympic tournament is not on FIFA's match calendar.

“We respect CAS but it doesn’t make things easier,” said Rogge.

Barcelona and Schalke play Champions League qualifiers during the Olympics and they could lose millions of dollars if they don't make the group stage. Player insurance is also an important issue if players get injured at the Olympics.

Rogge said that FIFA and the IOC must talk swiftly after the Beijing Games to avoid a similar situation happening in 2012 in London. Rogge also said that it was up to FIFA to deliver the solution.

“If FIFA put the Olympics on the calendar the issue is resolved,” Rogge said. – Agencies

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