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Is football in the Olympics? Definitive guide to the Games

Football is a beautiful game everywhere, even in the Olympics. So for most football fans, the most reckoning moments in the upcoming Summer Olympics will be when big national teams take to the stage to win the coveted gold medal.  However, football in the Olympics might not have the same prestige as the FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championships, but there is a significant history and relevance to the participating players.

The 2024 Summer Olympics will be hosted by Paris, the capital of France, who take the baton handed over by Tokyo, whose ‘2020 Olympic Games' were hosted a year later, in 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Background to football in the Olympics

Men’s football was first played at the Olympic Games back in 1900, when Paris were the hosts. This was when the Olympic Games was an amateur festival of sport, with professionalism only being permitted in 1986.

The Olympics won’t see the biggest and best names in action across the various French stadiums to be utilised next summer, but that has more to do with the unique rules that apply rather than the competition's reduced standing in the world of football.

Unlike the other main tournaments which are very much senior stages, the Olympics is different. In the 2024 Olympic Games, for men and women, the respective football squads must be made up of players aged 23 or under or born on/after 1 January 2001. 

The caveat to come with this is that three overage players are permitted for each squad, which can only be made up of 18 players, again signalling another difference to the senior international tournaments.

For some nations, it means this platform becomes a staging ground to bring a team together, gaining experience in preparation for a bigger international tournament to follow. 

Moreover, it means that in the upcoming summer Paris Olympics, the big names you are used to watching on the world stage such as the FIFA World Cup or Europe's top flights are likely to miss in action. But in cases where participating national teams fild players aged over 23 years, then you could be lucky to see a few popular soccer players grace the Olympic stage in its grandeur.

Football in the Olympics: Past winners

Like every football tournament, you love to follow, for example, the English Premier League, there is a prize in the Olympics, cutting across outstanding teams to winning teams. The catch with football in the Olympics in that the prizes cover three categories namely gold, silver and bronze.

In the Men’s edition, Brazil is currently the most successful nation with seven gold medals whilst the Women’s tournament has been won the most by the USA, with four victories since it was first introduced in Atlanta in 1996. 

Down through the years, the men’s tournament has been graced by the likes of Ferenc Puskás in 1952, Lev Yashin in 1956, Kanu in 1996, Samuel Eto’o in 2000, Lionel Messi in 2008, and Neymar in 2012 and 2016.

With that, here is a rundown of how football Olympics awards have happened over the years. Note that Argentina and Brazil dominated the recent 6 Olympics whereby there were two gold medals apiece for each side.

Football in the Olympics: Men's winners

Olympic Games: Gold-Silver-Bronze 

Tokyo 2020 Brazil – Spain – Mexico

Rio 2016 Brazil – Germany – Nigeria

London 2012 Mexico – Brazil – South Korea

Lionel Messi won the Football Olympics gold with Argentina at Beijing 2008
Lionel Messi won the Football Olympics gold with Argentina at Beijing 2008 | Photo by Icon Sport

Beijing 2008 Argentina – Nigeria – Brazil

Athens 2004 Argentina – Paraguay – Italy

Sydney 2000 Cameroon – Spain – Chile

Atlanta 1996 Nigeria – Argentina – Brazil

Barcelona 1992 Spain – Poland – Ghana

Seoul 1988 Soviet Union – Brazil -West Germany

Los Angeles 1984  France – Brazil – Yugoslavia

Moscow 1980 Czechoslovakia – East Germany – Soviet Union

Montreal 1976 East Germany – Poland – Soviet Union

Munich 1972 Poland – Hungary – Soviet Union/East Germany

Mexico City 1968 Hungary – Bulgaria – Japan

Tokyo 1964 Hungary – Czechoslovakia – Germany

Rome 1960 Yugoslavia – Denmark – Hungary

Melbourne 1956 Soviet UnionYugoslavia – Bulgaria

Helsinki 1952 Hungary – Yugoslavia – Sweden

London 1948 Sweden – Yugoslavia – Denmark

Berlin 1936 Italy – Austria – Norway

Amsterdam 1928 Uruguay – Argentina – Italy

Paris 1924 Uruguay – Switzerland – Sweden

Antwerp 1920 Belgium – Spain – Netherlands

Stockholm 1912 Great Britain – Denmark – Netherlands

London 1908 Great Britain – Denmark – Netherlands

St Louis 1904 Canada – Christian Brothers College (USA) – St. Rose Parish (USA)

Paris 1900 Great Britain – France – Belgium

Football in the Olympics: Women's winners

Olympic Games: Gold-Silver-Bronze

Tokyo 2020 Canada – Sweden – United States

Rio 2016 Germany – Sweden – Canada

London 2012 USA – Japan – Canada

Beijing 2008 USA – Brazil – Germany

Athens 2004 USA – Brazil – Germany

Sydney 2000 Norway – USA – Germany

Atlanta 1996 USA – China – Norway

Who will play in the football tournament in the 2024 Summer Olympics?

As in Tokyo 2020, 16 nations will contest the Men’s tournament whilst for the Women it will be 12. 

The qualification process is quite different as there is no singular qualifying tournament or equal access but instead, as agreed by FIFA, the distribution of places is determined by the following competitions, in addition to France as the host nation.

Football in the Olympics: Men's teams

Qualified so far: France, USA, Dominican Republic, Spain, Israel, Ukraine, Morocco, Egypt, Mali, New Zealand. Six more teams TBC. 

Host nation: France.

The 2022 CONCACAF U20 Championship was played earlier this summer in Honduras with the USA and Dominican Republic taking the two Olympic berths.

The 2023 UEFA Euro U21 Championships took place in Georgia and Romania around the same time. Three spots were available with those being won by Spain, Israel and Ukraine.

The U23 Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco saw Egypt and Mali qualify for the Olympics, while the Oceania Olympic qualifying tournament was won by New Zealand. 

The U23 AFC Asian Cup will not take place until next year which will determine three more participants. CONMEBOL will have a qualifying tournament with two places up for grabs and there will be a playoff for the final spot between representatives of AFC and CAF.

Brazil are the most successful nation in Football in the Olympics and Olympics Football | They will seek to defend their title in the Football Olympics 2024 in Paris
Brazil are defending men's Olympic champions | (Photo by Daniela Porcelli /SPP/Sipa USA/Icon Sport)

Football in the Olympics: Women's teams

A similar international distribution happens for the women's edition.

As well as the hosts France, the USA, Canada, Brazil and Colombia have booked their places, leaving another seven spots to be filled.

What stadiums will host the football tournament in the 2024 Summer Olympics?

There will be a good geographic spread of the host stadiums across the nation of France with seven venues to be used, including the home of Paris Saint-Germain, the Parc des Princes.

Parc des Princes in Paris is one of seven stadiums in France to be hosting football Olympics games in summer 2024. Football in the Olympics has been played since 1900.
Parc des Princes | (Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport)

Football 2024 Olympics: Stadiums

Stadium City Capacity
Parc des Princes Paris 47,929
Stade de Marseille Marseille 67,394
Stade de Lyon Lyon 59,186
Stade de Bordeaux Bordeaux 42,115
Stade Geoffroy-Guichard St Etienne 41,965
Stade de Nice Nice 36,178
Stade de la Beaujoire Nantes 35,322

The above football in the Olympics venue will be available for use in the off-season before France's top flight begins in earnest soon after. Parc de Princes is the homeground for PSG but from what you can see, it is not the biggest venue in the upcoming Olympics.

Frequently asked questions

When did the football draws for the 2024 Summer Olympics take place?

The draw for the Summer Olympics took place on 10 August 2024. It was then agreed that apart from Paris, the capital of Frances as the main host of the event, football events will also be staged in the aforesaid venues namely Marseille, Nice, Nantes, Decines-Charpieu,  and Saint-Ettiene.

When will the first football in the Olympics start?

The opening football Olympics matches will be played on 24 July 2024. Egypt will take on a team currently ranked second in the U23 Asian competition, AFC, at Parc des Princes. The other opening football match will be between Argentina and Morocco, to be staged at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Ettiene.

Which continents make up the football in the Olympics this season?

Football Olympics in the 2024 contests are drawn from Asia, Central America, North America, Africa, Oceania and France. There are a total of 16 men's teams in the 2024 Summer Olympics football.

What is FIFA's stand on the football Olympics?

Interestingly, the world football governing body does not consider football in the Olympics an important part of its activities. The Olympics football often take place outside the FIFA calendar so while the same rules apply, medals won by teams and players in the tournament do not count as much in FIFA's awards and records.

Okello Steve

Okello Steve is a seasoned Sports and travel writer with over 10 years of experience in the journalistic enterprise. Steve honed his writing skills from a tender age and went on to study communication at the University and chose to pursue a writing career as an independent journalist crafting engaging content for the web on sports, casino gaming and travel.

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