The Olympics are set to be postponed, and it could have a significant impact on the Olyroos squad which is eligible to lace up their boots in Tokyo.
Men’s football teams in the Olympics must field members who are under-23, except for three designated over-age players.
For example, at Tokyo 2020, all-but-three players must be born on or after 1 January 1997 – aka turning 23 during the year in which the Olympics takes place.
If the Olympics are suspended until 2021, the IOC could rule that players must be born on or after 1 January 1998, instead of 1997.
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That would wreak havoc on the Olyroos squad – with seven members of the squad which sealed qualification becoming ineligible to be fielded as underage players.
That includes four goalkeepers – Tom Glover (Melbourne City), Daniel Margush (Perth Glory), Jordan Holmes (Ebbsfleet United, England), and Tom Heward-Belle (Sydney FC).
Three talented defenders would also be ruled out: Alex Gersbach (AGF Aarhus, Denmark), Thomas Deng (Melbourne Victory), and Connor O’Toole (Newcastle Jets).
But the squad damage goes deeper. Eight other players who have recently been called up to the Olyroos would be ineligible.
Five of those players are Patrick Flottmann (Sydney FC), George Timotheou (Zulte Waregem, Belgium), Ivan Vujica (Western Utd), Daniel De Silva (Central Coast Mariners), and George Blackwood (Adelaide United).
However, there’s a fascinating subplot for the remaining three.
Brandon Wilson (Wellington Phoenix), Lachlan Wales (Melbourne City), and Riley McGree (Adelaide United) – undoubtedly three of the most talented young players in Australia – were each suspended from the Olyroos until 10 August 2020, with Riley McGree handed a longer suspension lasting until 1 April 2020.
With the Olympics set to be postponed, each of those players could become eligible to feature as over-age players, but not under-23 players. If they are selected as the designated three over-age players, it would effectively neuter the FFA’s punishment for a group sex scandal those players were involved in during a team tour of South East Asia.
Another Olyroo – 20-year-old Nathaniel Atkinson (Melbourne City) was also suspended until 10 August 2020, meaning he will likely become eligible to feature for the Olyroos as an under-23 player when the Olympics are rescheduled.
Of course, the IOC may decide to bend the rules to essentially make it an under-24 tournament, so that all players who originally were eligible for Tokyo 2020 remain eligible as underage players.
But if they do not, the FFA and Socceroos/Olyroos coach Graham Arnold faces the tough decision of whether to sacrifice Australia’s Olympic ambitions in order to reward the players who initially qualified.
That could see superstar overage players like Premier League duo Aaron Mooy and Mat Ryan (both of Brighton and Hove Albion) miss out on Tokyo.