August 6, 2021
Futsal’s Olympic Spirit
by Jamie Fahey
With the Olympic Games in Tokyo drawing to a close, Jamie Fahey, author of Futsal: The Story of an Indoor Football Revolution, presents the case for the sport’s inclusion at future Olympiads.
Richarlison did it for me. Last time, it was Neymar sealing Olympic gold for Brazil. In Brazil. The country where futsal is the nation’s “laboratory of improvisation,” a breathless game of the streets, favelas, indoor halls, and schools. In Tokyo, seeing Everton’s “Brazilian who only cost £50 million” lead the 2021 seleção to a men’s football final against Spain—Europe’s primary futsal-playing nation—only raised the volume in my mind. Why on earth is the FIFA-sanctioned five-a-side game, played by 60 million from Tehran to Buenos Aires, still not part of the Olympic jamboree?
Not a new question. But one to be asked with fresh zeal given the nascent urban spirit on show at the Games, from Sky Brown on the skateboard to Charlotte Worthington pirouetting on the BMX, the creative chaos of the Rugby Sevens and, of course, the 3v3 basketball stars embodying their slogan: “From the streets to the Olympics.” The game born in the YMCAs of 1930s South America has held a torch for the Olympic dream ever since its rise to professionalism began in the 1980s.
It’s been a marathon, not a sprint. Brazil’s failure to bring futsal in at Rio de Janeiro 2016 felt like a crushing blow. But the time has now come—especially as boys’ and girls’ futsal replaced football in the 2018 Youth Olympics. It’s halfway there, and a petition for full Olympic status in Brisbane 2032 is doing the rounds.
The biggest hurdle in the race is football. The men’s Olympic tournament is a third-tier affair in footballing terms; if ditched, the only pain would be in the pockets of event organisers losing matchday revenue. The women’s game feels different. It fits the bill. More equality-conscious, more progressive, less privileged. Classic Olympian, perhaps. Just like futsal.
Other obstacles include the strict IOC criteria for new events: FIFA needs a women’s futsal World Cup; the men’s World Cup, clashing with Olympic year, requires a rethink; and the professional Russian futsal Super League would have to shrink its 25-minute halves to match the 20-minute standard to meet global rule unity requirements. All feasible.
The final hurdle is numbers. In Tokyo, 11,000 athletes are slugging it out in 41 sports comprising 339 events. Futsal and its big FIFA-run brother football would never be granted nearly 1,000 places for just 1% of events. But if men’s football were kicked into touch (freeing up 288 places from 16 squads of 18), men’s and women’s futsal could squeeze in with 10 squads (just like the youth Olympics) of 14 in each competition, leaving eight precious beds to spare.
With handball venues ready to use, there would be no issue with matchday facilities either. So it’s up to FIFA to push, and the IOC to decide. In the meantime, the words of Pierre de Coubertin, the “father of the modern Olympic Games”, still resonate. “Winning medals wasn’t the point of the Olympics,” he once said. “It’s the participating that counts.”
An admirable motto for futsal’s Olympic ambitions.
Futsal: The Story of an Indoor Football Revolution is available now.
Jamie Fahey is the author of Futsal: The Story of an Indoor Football, available now in the UK.