Athletics: Age-limit fear for Olympics

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The Independent Online
THE PROPOSAL that fooball's World Cup should become biennial rather be staged every four years has not been greeted with great enthusiasm within the sport and has already had a knock-on effect on others.

Athletes has considered making changes to the structure of its competitions to protect itself against the expected deluge of football. The International Amateur Athletic Federation's is considering restricting its Olympic competition to athletes aged 23 and under to protect the "exclusivity" of its world championships, which could encounter a scheduling conflict with the World Cup or the Olympics.

Under the proposal from Sepp Blatter, the president of world football's governing body, Fifa, to stage the World Cup twice as often, the tournament would not be played in an Olympic year, but then it could clash with the biennial athletics world championships. That event could then be moved from odd years to even years to prevent a clash, an IAAF spokesman, Giorgio Reineri, said yesterday.

Such a change would put every other championships in the same year as the Olympics, where track and field is considered the main attraction.

"If there will be this clash, we we will have to protect our world championships," Reineri said at the IAAF's headquarters in Monaco. "We will need to be sure we will be the only event with the best athletes. Naturally, the IAAF will study the best way in order to assure the exclusivity of the best athletes for its world championships."

Reineri would not speculate on how the Olympics would be affected, but he would not rule out the possibility that the IAAF put an age limit of 23 on Olympic competitors, just as Fifa does for its Olympic tournament.

The IAAF's president, Primo Nebiolo, has in the past raised the possibility of restricting Olympic events to young athletes, but the threat never materialised, and the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, has largely succeeded in placating Nebiolo.

While Blatter did not specify when the proposed biennial tournaments would be held, it is widely assumed they would be staged in odd years, probably starting in 2009. Such a schedule would put the World Cup in conflict with the IAAF championships, which recently changed from a four- year to two-year cycle. The IAAF championships are considered by some as the third largest international sports competition behind the Olympics and World Cup.