Fifa tells clubs to release young players for Olympics

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The Independent Online

Barcelona will not be happy, but Lionel Messi will miss the start of La Liga season as he will be at the Olympics playing for Argentina after Fifa yesterday told clubs they must release any players aged under 23 selected for next month's Beijing Games.

The world game's governing body said players' status committee member Slim Aloulou had ruled as a single judge that the release of players was mandatory for all clubs. Bundesliga sides Werder Bremen and Schalke argued, along with Barcelona, against releasing players because the Olympics were not included on Fifa's international match calendar.

However, a Fifa statement said: "The judge determined that the international match calendar is not of relevance in establishing whether clubs are obliged to release players." They added that the Olympic Games was a "unique opportunity" for all athletes "and that it would not be justifiable to prevent any player younger than 23 from participating in such an event".

Werder and Schalke have filed complaints with the Court of Arbitration for Sport after Brazil selected the Schalke defender Rafinha and Werder playmaker Diego. Prior to Fifa's announcement, Messi said: "I understand the position of the club... but they also have to understand that it is my dream to play for my national team at the Olympic Games."

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