FIFA extends men's age limit for Tokyo Olympic soccer tournament due to virus

GENEVA — FIFA has extended the age limit for the men’s soccer tournament at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The amended Olympic rule on Friday retains the "players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997" standard for the Tokyo Games following a one-year postponement agreed last week by the International Olympic Committee and Japanese authorities.

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It means players eligible for the intended under-23 tournament in 2020 can still play in Japan at age 24 next year. Men’s soccer kicks off ahead of the July 23, 2021 opening ceremony in Tokyo.

CONCACAF is the last confederation yet to qualify teams for the 16-country Olympic men's tournament. Its qualifying competition, which was scheduled to start March 20 in Guadalajara, Mexico, was postponed due to COVID-19.

Canada has taken part in just two of the 24 Olympic men’s soccer competitions and has failed to qualify for the last eight Olympics. Its last participation came in 1984 in Los Angeles.

The Canadian women have already qualified for Tokyo. There is no age limit to the women's soccer competition.

FIFA also postponed two women’s age-group World Cups due this year in Central America and India, and confirmed no international games for men and women will be played in the early June dates protected for national team callups.

Soccer's world body said "health must always be the first priority and the main criteria in any decision-making process, especially in these challenging times."

Canada's men had planned to play in the June window in a bid to catch El Salvador in the rankings and crack the top six in CONCACAF, thus making the so-called Hex — the most direct route of World Cup qualifying out of the region.

CONCACAF had said its top six teams after the June window would make the Hex, with countries ranked seventh through 35th taking a more circuitous route.

CONCACAF has not said whether it will make any changes to its World Cup qualifying process.

The Olympic decision was made by a FIFA panel of soccer officials worldwide, created to address the soccer shutdown during the health crisis.

The 16 men's teams at the Tokyo Olympics next year can also select three over-age players in their rosters. A stellar lineup includes Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Spain.

Two women’s World Cup tournaments — the Under-20s hosted by Panama and Costa Rica in August and September, and the Under-17s in India in November — are postponed. No new dates were announced.

Canada did not qualify for the U-20 World Cup and the CONCACAF Women's Under-17 Championships, originally scheduled for April 18 to May 3 in Toluca, Mexico, has been suspended.

Until the COVID-19 outbreak, national team games scheduled in June included the 2020 European Championship, World Cup qualifying games in South America and Asia, and qualifiers for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

After Euro 2020 was postponed for one year, UEFA hoped to schedule playoff games in June to confirm the last four places in a 24-nation lineup. Those playoffs were postponed indefinitely this week.

World Cup qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar now face uncertain scheduling in a congested calendar in Europe, South America and Asia.

FIFA said Friday it would "organize bilateral discussions" with continental governing bodies "to finalize a revised match schedule pending health and safety developments."

FIFA plans to direct hundreds of millions of dollars from its cash reserves to support a global emergency fund, and has agreed to appoint one official from each of the six soccer continents to co-ordinate the work.

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With files from The Canadian Press

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