FIFA orders clubs to release players
ZURICH (Reuters) - World soccer's governing body FIFA has told clubs they must release any players aged under 23 selected for next month's Beijing Olympics after rejecting a protest by three European teams.
In a statement issued to the clubs and the media on Wednesday, FIFA said Players' Status Committee member Slim Aloulou had ruled as a single judge that the release of players was mandatory for all clubs.
German Bundesliga sides Werder Bremen and Schalke, and Spain's Barcelona had argued against the need to release players because the Olympics were not included on FIFA's international match calendar.
"The single judge determined that the international match calendar is not of relevance in establishing whether clubs are obliged to release players," FIFA said in its statement.
"In view of the longstanding and undisputed practice (since 1988, clubs have always accepted the release of Under-23 players for the competition), he deemed that recourse to customary law is justified."
The statement 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 already filed complaints with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) following the call-ups of Schalke defender Rafinha and Werder playmaker Diego into Brazil's Olympic squad.
CAS said last week it would wait until after FIFA had made its final decision before examining the complaints.
Barcelona, whose influential forward Lionel Messi has been called up by Argentina, said on Monday they would also go to CAS if FIFA ruled against them.
The Olympic football tournament runs from August 6-23, a period when many European clubs are beginning their domestic league seasons or playing qualifying matches for European competitions.
Although generally involving players aged 23 or under, Olympic squads are also allowed to nominate three overage players. FIFA has already acknowledged, however, that the release of those players was not compulsory.
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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