Considering the hysteria which surrounded the release of tickets for this summer’s Olympic Games last year, we might have expected that sales for the football tournament would be high. After all, this is a country which loves its football and the idea of a tournament of any description – and it is of course worth bearing in mind the World Cup won’t be coming to these shores any time in our lifetimes and it’s not implausible that the European Championships might not either – being held in this country is an appealing one.
This week’s confirmation that half a million tickets are to be withdrawn from sale, however, isn’t a great surprise, for this summer’s Olympic Games have already created more ill-will than anybody could have imagined send Britain’s involvement in the football tournament has laid bare the fractured political union of a country which seems likely to completely fall to pieces in the fullness of time.
The arguing began as soon as it was announced that a Great Britain team would be appearing in the tournament. There were many different ways in which this team could have been cobbled together and the rights and wrongs of it are not something that we’re going to rake over yet again. We should, however, suffice to say that the decision to play games around the whole of the UK seemed optimistic – why exactly should someone in Cardiff care in the slightest about an Olympic Games being held in London? – while what was perceived as the high-mindedness of the FA in their processes for selecting a coach will likewise have left others cold.
Then, of course, there is a small matter of the timing of it all, falling as close as it does to the start of the domestic season . Pre-season friendly matches have already begun and the Premier League juggernaut will start to loom large on the horizon in the near future. The Premier League is hostile enough to the very concept of international football as things are, and it would certainly be no great surprise to see players start to drop out of the squad with mysterious injuries. Even if this doesn’t happen, though, the attention of many that might have considered themselves interested in going to matches will have been tested by the start of the domestic season. This isn’t something that could have been helped, of course. Few would have expected the Premier League, the Football League or others to suspend or delay their calendar on account of the Olympic Games. It does, however, explain why, when tickets for other events for the games have been in high demand, sales for this event have appeared sluggish.
We should also consider the small matter of the palpably negative feeling that is starting to engulf these entire games. The G4S security issue has pushed this general feeling of grumpiness into the open, but this is merely a manifestation of a phenomenon that has been apparent for some time. From the chaotic-looking way in which tickets for all events were sold, through the over-officious nature of those wishing to protect the apparent “rights” of sponsors (apparently, just being associated with the games isn’t enough any more – if you’re a sponsor you also get to obliterate any competition within driving distance of where the games are being held) and right the way down to the forced installation of surface to air missiles on the roofs of London apartment blocks in preparation for anticipated terrorist attacks, these games are, even for those of us that might have considered ourselves enthusiasts, starting to leave a bad taste in the mouth.
None of this to say, as some have done over the last few months, that the Olympic football tournament is a complete waste of time. For one thing, there is not one Olympic football tournament but two, with the women’s tournament holding a considerably higher level of importance within the women’s game than its male counterpart does. If last year’s World Cup is anything to go by, the competition for these gold medals will be well worth watching, even if we have to put up with the usual sexist nonsense from those for whom testosterone is the be all and end all of sport. Even the much-derided men’s tournament has much to recommend it, with Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani in the squad for Uruguay, David De Gea, Jordi Alba and Juan Mata appearing for Spain and Hulk, Sandro and Thiago Silva in the Brazilian squad. A patchwork Britain side – and just typing that feels weirdly counter-intuitive just to type those words – will surely struggle against any of the strongest teams in the tournament, but none of that is to suggest that this tournament isn’t worth watching. Traditional Olympic ideals may well be a thing of the past and these games may have both literal and metaphorical clouds hanging over them, but ultimately we will likely watch, even if it is with a degree of scepticism.
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