Messi's Olympic role in doubt after ruling

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The Independent Online

Barcelona's Argentine superstar Lionel Messi was last night named in his nation's team for their opening Olympic Games match against Ivory Coast today but whether he will actually play, or stay much longer in China, remains in doubt. A landmark court ruling has established there is no legal imperative for his being at the Games.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport yesterday ruled in favour of Barça, Werder Bremen and Schalke being allowed to recall players who have been called up by the countries. Football's world governing body said last week that clubs must release players for the Games. The clubs appealed to CAS, who overturned Fifa's ruling.

Barça had complained because they have a Champions League qualifier to play before the Olympics end and do not want to be without the 21-year-old. Schalke's Brazilian defender Rafinha is also at the Games against his club's will, although they relented last night and said the player could remain in Beijing even though the Bundesliga season starts before the Games end. Werder Bremen took action for the same reason over their Brazlian midfielder, Diego but they too last night relented.

"Fifa is surprised and disappointed by this [CAS] decision, but we respect it," said the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter. "Nevertheless, I appeal to the clubs: Let your players take part in the Olympic Games! It would be an act of solidarity in perfect harmony with the Olympic spirit. It would be wonderful for the players, for the fans and for the game itself." It seems Blatter's words were heeded in Germany.

In its ruling, CAS found that Fifa's position of last week was based on custom rather than law, meaning clubs could not be forced to release players.

The CAS ruling means that any Premier League clubs with players at the Games can now recall them, if they want to, but that is thought to be unlikely. The men in question, including Manchester United's Anderson, and three Liverpool players, Javier Mascherano, Lucas and Ryan Babel are all already with their international squads.

Messi's international coach, Sergio Batista, insisted last night that the forward wants to stay in China and play in the Games. Batista named his XI for today's match in Shanghai and Messi, who trained yesterday, was in it.