Barcelona on Wednesday dismissed a FIFA statement calling on clubs to release players under 23 for the Olympics, saying it will not reverse its decision to prevent Argentine striker Lionel Messi from competing in the Games.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter earlier on Wednesday sent a letter to member associations reminding them they must release players aged under 23 for the Olympic tournament, a statement by football’s governing body said.
This statement “changes nothing” and Barca will retain the 21-year-old Messi in the squad for the preliminary round of the Champions League next month, a club spokesman told AFP.
He said Barca is “still waiting for a decision” by FIFA on the specific case of Messi.
Messi has repeatedly expressed his desire to help Argentina defend its Olympic title but the Catalan club has been reluctant to let him go as he is needed for early Champions League matches.
The Olympic tournament begins on August 6 with the final on August 23, but the first leg of the third Champions League preliminary round is scheduled for August 12-13.
The club said earlier on Wednesday it had received the support of Spain’s Professional Football League, which informed it that clubs have “no obligation” to release players for the Games.
It said the European Clubs Association and its German president, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, had expressed a similar opinion.
Messi is currently with the Barcelona squad at its pre-season training camp in Scotland, which will last until July 26. The team face Scottish Premier League side Hibernian in a friendly on July 24 and Dundee United two days later.
Several German clubs are faced with similar problems, in particular Werder Bremen, whose Brazilian midfielder Diego has joined his national team despite opposition from his club.
In his letter, Blatter said “making available players under the age of 23 for the Olympic Games has always been obligatory for all clubs.
“The fact that the Olympic football tournament in Beijing 2008 does not figure officially on the international match calendar does not mean there is no obligation for clubs” to release players.
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