Korea open to FIFA raising age limit for 2020 Games

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Korea open to FIFA raising age limit for 2020 Games

Korea welcomed a recent FIFA recommendation to raise the age limit for the Tokyo Olympic men’s football tournament, saying players who were eligible in 2020 deserve a chance to compete at the Summer Games postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s football is only open to players who are 23 or younger, except for a maximum three overage players permitted for each nation. For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, those born on or after Jan. 1, 1997, would have been eligible.

But with the Tokyo Games having been pushed to July 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, players born in 1997 wouldn’t be allowed to play unless the age limit was adjusted.

Last weekend, a working group established by FIFA recommended that the Tokyo Olympics should remain open to the 1997 births, as originally planned.

This recommendation still has to be approved by the FIFA Bureau, a reduced version of its decision-making FIFA Council. But the Korean under-23 head coach Kim Hak-bum was still grateful that the door has at least opened a bit for his current squad.

“The players born in 1997 did so much work in securing the Olympic berth, and it would have been disappointing if they didn’t get a chance to play in the Olympics,” Kim said in a statement released by the Korea Football Association (KFA). “We’re lucky that these players will have their opportunity.”

On March 26, the KFA sent a letter to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which was also forwarded to the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, and argued that it would be “unfair” for 1997-born players not to be able to compete at the Olympics after the event was postponed for reasons outside their control.

When Korea won the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament, the AFC U-23 Championship, in January this year, Kim relied heavily on 11 players born in 1997.

The group includes the tournament MVP Won Du-jae, who excelled as a shutdown midfielder. Song Bum-keun, named the best goalkeeper of the competition, was also born in 1997, as were Lee Dong-gyeong and Lee Dong-jun, who tied for the team lead with two goals apiece.

Coach Kim insisted as important as the rule change is, no 1997-born player will be guaranteed a spot on his team. “[The recommendation] doesn’t change the fact that the players have to earn their places on the team,” Kim said. “And everyone will have the same opportunity.”

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