Futsal is ready to make its Youth Olympic Games debut. The discipline will be appearing on an Olympic programme for the very first time at the third Youth Olympic Games later this year, taking the place of football, which featured at Singapore 2010 and Nanjing 2014.
It is a huge step forward for futsal, with both men's and women's tournaments being held at the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) great youth gathering, which takes place in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian capital, this coming October.
The change was agreed in early 2015, following a proposal made by the IOC, which was duly approved by all the confederations.
“The idea was to make the competition format a better fit for the general structure of the Games,” explained FIFA Head of Tournaments Jaime Yarza. “The format includes fewer athletes, facilities used in other sports and a festival-type set-up in which people can come on and off the court in a similar way to other sports, such as basketball and handball.”
As Yarza went on to explain, the inclusion of futsal, with ten teams taking part in the men’s competition and ten in the women’s, is in line with the IOC’s development of other sports, among them basketball 3x3 and rugby sevens. Additionally, the top futsal athletes worldwide will now participate at the Youth Olympic Futsal Tournaments Buenos Aires 2018 and the sport can be put together with other disciplines.
“It will promote the development of futsal around the world,” he added. The men’s and women’s tournaments will both start on 7 October, with the men’s finishing one day later, on 18 October.
Change in age limits
Only players born between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2003 will be eligible for the Buenos Aires 2018 futsal tournament. In other words, they must be aged between 15 and 18. The age range at Nanjing 2014 and Singapore 2010, for example, was from 14 to 15 years old.
“As we don’t have any futsal competitions at youth level, it was felt that the best thing was to guarantee an entertaining competition by trying to get high-quality players – closer in age to 18 than 14 – to take part,” said Yarza.
A total of 100 male and 100 female players will be gracing the courts at Tecnopolis and the CeNARD (Argentina’s National Centre of Elite Sporting Performance), the two venues chosen by Buenos Aires to host the futsal tournaments.
Development and women’s futsal
Expectations are very high as to the impact that being an Olympic discipline will have on futsal, as Yarza went on to say: “When futsal consolidates its position in the competition we will no doubt see increased development of the sport and greater attention paid to the discipline’s youth categories.”
Pointing to the opportunities for growing the women’s game in particular, he added: “It’s essential to have a tournament of this standard in promoting the game among women and in moving towards senior women’s competitions, something we’re already seeing with confederations such as UEFA, AFC and CONMEBOL.”