Why Is Olympic Football Not Popular

5 Reasons Why Olympic Football Is Not Popular

Last updated on June 26th, 2022

You may have heard of Olympic football, but it is much less popular compared to the World Cup.

Why is it that Olympic football is not as popular compared to other football competitions? Here are some possible reasons why:

Why is Olympic football not popular?

Olympic football is not popular mainly due to the Under-23 restriction that is imposed on teams. Many big football stars are unable to participate in the tournament due to this rule. This results in the Olympic football competition not having the same prestige as other well-known tournaments such as the World Cup.

Here are some of these reasons explained:

#1 There are too many football competitions

There are many different football competitions that are happening all the time. This includes:

  1. National Leagues
  2. National Cups
  3. Club World Cup
  4. Continental competitions (e.g. Euros)
  5. World Cup

With many other competitions, Olympic football is just one of the many competitions that football fans will watch.

#2 Only 16 teams are involved

In each Olympic tournament, there are only 16 teams that are involved in the competition.

This is half the number of teams of the World Cup, which has 32 teams!

In some of the World Cup tournaments, there are already some teams that are unable to qualify for the tournament. With the Olympics having even fewer teams, there will be more teams who will be left out of the tournament.

The Olympic qualifiers depend on a special U-23 tournament

To qualify for the Olympic tournament, your team will need to go through a special U-23 tournament. Here are some examples of the tournaments that help you to qualify for the Olympics:

EuropeUEFA U21 Championship
South AmericaCONMEBOL Pre-Olympic Tournament
OceaniaOFC U-23 Championship
AfricaAfrica U-23 Cup of Nations
AsiaAFC U-23 Championship
North AmericaCONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship

As such, you will be relying on your Under-23 team instead of your actual national team. This could lead to some stronger teams not being able to qualify, as their U-23 team does not perform well in the tournament.

There is a limit to the number of teams from each continent

Similar to the World Cup, there are limits to the number of teams that come from each continent. Here are the slots available in the 2020 Summer Olympics:

ContinentNumber of Slots
Host Country (Japan)1
South America2
North America2

The highest number of countries from the same continent is Europe (4), which is not a lot too. South America has some pretty strong teams like Brazil, Argentina and Colombia. However, only 2 of them can qualify!

With a small number of countries being able to play in the Olympics, it can be hard for every good team to play in the tournament.

Take the 2016 Rio Olympics tournament for example. The semi-finals involved these 4 teams:

  1. Brazil
  2. Germany
  3. Honduras
  4. Nigeria

Brazil and Germany are one of the top few teams in the world. However Honduras has never made it past the Group Stages in the World Cup, while Nigeria only reached the Round of 16.

As such, the quality of the tournament may be affected as well, especially if popular teams are not playing.

There is no British team participating in the Olympics

One interesting observation is that there is no British team that participates in the Olympics. The United Kingdom participates in the Olympics as Team Great Britain. This consists of 3 countries:

  1. England
  2. Wales
  3. Scotland

Even though Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, they are not a part of Great Britain.

Team Great Britain (GB) did participate in the 2012 Olympics, but only because London was the host. In the 2016 Olympics, Scotland and Wales failed to agree to sending their players to represent Team GB.

As such, Team GB did not participate in the 2016 Olympics, and did not feature in the 2020 qualification as well.

This is because the other countries feel that they would lose their independence in the eyes of FIFA, if they participated in the Olympics as Team GB.

This is a pity as the English Premier League is one of the most watched league in the world. A lot of the players do come from England, especially young players who are just making a name for themselves.

Without popular English players participating in the Olympic tournament, not many people who are familiar with the Premier League may want to watch the Olympics.

#3 There are not many famous stars playing in the Olympics

There is a unique age limit that is present in Olympic football. For the men’s tournament, the majority of the team has to be below 23 years old. However, each team is able to have 3 players that are over 23 years old in each squad.

One reason why this age limit is in place is because FIFA does not want the Olympics to overshadow the World Cup.

Due to this age limit, there are not many popular players who will be playing in the Olympics. Most footballers usually peak when they are older than 23 years old.

Moreover, most of the squad consists of players for the future, rather than the superstars of today. If you do not follow football closely, you may be unfamiliar with most of the players on the team.

The popularity of the tournament may be correlated with the players who are playing in it. If you are not sure of who the players are, you will most likely not want to watch the matches!

#4 The Olympics usually start around the same time as the domestic seasons

The Olympics usually start between July and August. This is usually very close to the time when the top domestic leagues start their seasons as well.

Domestic leagues are more appealing

Some of the European leagues start their season in August, such as:

  1. English Premier League
  2. La Liga
  3. Bundesliga
  4. Serie A
  5. Ligue 1

Most of these leagues have many top players that may not have a chance to play in the Olympics. Would you rather watch matches where you would know most players, or matches where mainly U-23s are playing?

The domestic leagues will have a much higher appeal to football fans compared to the Olympics. Since both of them start around the same period, you’ll most likely choose to watch the domestic league!

Clubs may not want to allow their key players to play in the Olympics

Every club will want to start the season on a good note. They will need all of their players to be available to play for the team.

As such, most clubs are reluctant to let their players participate in international tournaments, especially if they are the club’s key player.

The player may sustain an injury while on international duty as well!

There has always been a standoff between clubs and countries over players playing in international matches. With the Olympics happening at the same time, clubs will be even more reluctant to let their players go.

You can find out more about the differences between club football and international football here.

#5 An Olympic gold medal may be considered to be less prestigious compared to a trophy won

When you are the winner of a football tournament, you will usually be presented with a trophy. This has led to trophy presentations that come with a lot of fanfare.

In contrast, you are only awarded a medal when you win the Olympic football tournament. The same amount of emotions can’t be conveyed during a medal presentation compared to a trophy presentation.

As such, the Olympic gold medal may be considered by players to be less prestigious compared to winning the World Cup.

Why is the Olympic football team different from the usual national team?

The Olympic football teams have an under-23 age restriction imposed on them, which limits the number of famous players that are able to play in the team. The Olympic football team would mainly consist of youth players, where the majority of them have not made a name for themselves yet.

When you look at the Olympic finals in 2021, you most probably would not have recognised most of the players who were playing.

This is mainly due to the age limit placed on Olympic football. Many famous Brazilian and Spanish players did not feature because of this age limit, which is why the teams seemed to be so different!

Why is Olympic football not taken seriously?

Olympic football does not have a similar prestige as other international football tournaments, mainly due to the under-23 age restriction. As such, these countries may not hold Olympic football in high regard and may not take it as seriously compared to other tournaments like the World Cup.

The World Cup is one of the most prestigious trophies that a player would dream of winning. However, the Olympics is not held in the same regard!


When compared to other sports in the Olympics, football just seems out of place. With many restrictions on the players and teams, this tournament certainly can’t compete with the World Cup.

This could explain why Olympic football just isn’t that popular compared to the many different football tournaments out there!

Subscribe to Telegram and Twitter to get the latest updates!

undraw junior soccer 6sop

Are you passionate about football and want to earn some side income?