European clubs set to refuse to release players for 2012 Olympic event

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The Independent Online

Another row is brewing over next year's 2012 Olympic football tournament, with Europe's top clubs insisting their players must not be forced to compete in more than one major competition per season.

The European Club Association, 136 of whose 197 members attended their general assembly in Geneva, says expecting its leading performers to take part in Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland, followed quickly by the London Games, is asking too much.

Debate is already raging about whether Great Britain will be represented at London 2012 by a cross-section of players from all four national home associations or just from England. Now games organisers have another hurdle to overcome.

The ECA vice-president Umberto Gandini feels the time scale between the two summer tournaments is too short to expect clubs to release elite players for both events.

"We do not think it is appropriate that European players will play in the European championship and then some of the same players will be involved in the Olympics in London a few weeks later," he said.

"It does not make sense for a club player to be involved in two major tournaments in such a short period of time. We have appealed to Uefa to say that players selected for Euro 2012, should not be selected for the Olympics.

"As the Olympics are not part of the international calendar we are going to face the same situation as 2008 where there will be requests for release of players where the clubs have other activities. We hope we can discuss this without getting into conflict."

Manchester United chief executive David Gill, an ECA board member, agreed. "A player who is in the squad for Euro 2012 should not then be in the Olympic squad," Gill said. "Football is a key part of the Olympics and we are very happy to participate as a league and release players, and we support it – but I hope common sense prevails."

Meanwhile Europe's top clubs have warned Fifa to pay more attention to their demands or risk a new club versus country cold war.

Following their general assembly, the ECA also expressed their dissatisfaction over Fifa president Sepp Blatter's constant public pronouncements about whether the Qatar 2022 World Cup would be staged in winter or summer. Calling for a greater role in the decision-making process of the international match calendar, Sandro Rosell, the president of Spanish champions Barcelona and an ECA vice-president, did not mince his words, saying: "I wouldn't say we are at war, the clubs are very patient, but we have our limits.

"The clubs are angry that Fifa have added eight additional international fixtures to the match calendar from 2011-14, including last night's round of friendlies across Europe, seemingly without consulting them.

Gandini said the current schedule suited no one, adding: "Tell me which national team manager or club manager is happy there is an international friendly? All of a sudden we discover they [Fifa] can modify the calendar any time they like. If you are not heard you have to scream."

The ECA also underlined its opposition to playing the Qatar 2022 World Cup during the winter even though summer temperatures could reach 50 degrees in the searing desert heat.

Gill was clearly aggrieved that no proper discussions had been held with the clubs. "It has not been dealt with correctly," he said. "There has been concern obviously in the way it has manifested itself. That is not just our view, it's the view of more than 100 clubs individually and collectively.

"This is a major thing that will have ramifications for club football for three years. This is an issue that has not been dealt with correctly."

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