Soccer in the Olympics: History, Features, and Champions

The Olympic Games are a global event that takes place every four years. Athletes from all over the world come together to compete in a variety of sports. Soccer made its debut as an Olympic sport in Paris, France in 1900, and has continued to grow in popularity over the years. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at soccer in the Olympics. We will discuss its history, features, and champions!

History of the Olympic soccer games

The first Olympic soccer matches were played in Paris, France in 1900. Three teams from three countries participated – France, Belgium, and England, which were represented by club teams. Gold medals went to players of the English club Upton Park London, representing Great Britain. To win the Olympics it was enough for them to beat Club Francais Paris 4-0 in one match.

At the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, club teams again competed. A total of three teams competed, two representing the United States, both from St. Louis – Christian Brothers College and St. Rose Parish – and one representing Canada from the city of Galt (Galt Football Club).

The 1904 Olympic champion was the team from the Canadian city of Galt (now Cambridge), beating both American teams 7-0 and 4-0, respectively.

The situation with the three clubs was repeated four years later in St. Louis. Only there the Canadians won. But in the same year, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) was organized. It quickly took the tournament at the Olympic Games under its control. Already since 1908 only national teams took part in similar tournaments, there also began a playoff system.

Also, it was decided that only amateur soccer players could participate in the Olympics. And until the first World Cup took place (and it happened in 1930) these competitions were considered the main soccer competition on the planet. But then this status passed to the World Cup because professionals were also playing there.

At the Olympic Games in 1960, the format of the soccer tournament and the number of participants was finally clearly defined. 16 teams were divided into 4 groups, which met each other. Then the best teams would compete in a playoff system.

Since then, soccer has continued to be a popular event at the Olympic Games. The men’s tournament has been won by a variety of countries, including Uruguay, Brazil, Italy, and Argentina. The women’s tournament has been won by several different countries as well, including Sweden, the United States, and Norway.

Features of soccer in the Olympics

As already noted, only amateur players were allowed to participate in the tournament. This greatly reduced the spectacle of the tournament, because, by the middle of the twentieth century, soccer became fully professional in almost all countries. Some countries declared their players and athletes, in general, to be amateurs at all levels. Clearly, this was a formality. In some countries the soccer players were only listed as amateurs, in reality, they were just as professional as their counterparts in other countries. But professional athletes had no right to come to the Olympics, and those athletes were allowed.

However, professional players also sometimes managed to get into the Olympic tournament, temporarily terminating their status. In 1984, at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, it was finally decided to allow professionals to participate in the tournament. But again not all of them. The relaxation covered representatives of Asia, Africa, the CONCACAF zone (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football), and Oceania.

The ban was finally lifted only in 1992, but an age restriction was imposed: players had to be no older than 23. Only three players from a team had the right to cross this age limit. So now the Olympic tournament is actually the World Youth Championship. True, now the interest in it has grown considerably because the rising stars of world soccer play there.

In 1996, women’s soccer appeared in the Olympics.

Who is the most often to become an Olympic soccer champion?

The British and Hungarian soccer teams won the Olympics three times each. The USSR, Argentina, and Uruguay each won two. Interestingly, the Brazilians lost five times in the finals and took silver.

In women’s soccer, four times the Americans were victorious.

So Olympic soccer is interesting and fascinating in its own way. Just ask the tournament medalists about it.

Table of all Olympic soccer champions

1908 LondonGreat Britain
1912 StockholmGreat Britain
1920 AntwerpBelgium
1924 ParisUruguay 
1928 AmsterdamUruguay 
1936 BerlinItaly
1948 LondonSweden
1952 HelsinkiHungary
1956 MelbourneSoviet Union
1960 RomeYugoslavia
1964 TokyoHungary
1968 Mexico CityHungary
1972 MunichPoland
1976 MontrealEast Germany
1980 MoscowCzechoslovakia
1984 Los AngelesFrance
1988 SeoulSoviet Union
1992 BarcelonaSpain
1996 AtlantaNigeria
2000 SydneyCameroon
2004 AthensArgentina
2008 BeijingArgentina
2012 LondonMexico
2016 Rio de JaneiroBrazil
2020 TokyoBrazil


  • Is Soccer in the Olympics?

    Yes, soccer is in the Olympics. The Olympic Games are organized every four years. Soccer has been played during most of them and was only not an official event on two occasions: the 1932 summer games, when it was replaced by rugby union; and not at all in 1908 as there were no teams available to play a competition.

    In 1896, Athens hosted the first modern Olympic Games with 14 nations participating (only 11 completed). However, soccer wasn’t part of it. French historian Pierre de Coubertin was determined to include soccer at future events but British thought that this sport should be reserved for amateurs only so he didn’t pay much attention to his efforts (at least until 1908). That year London held its third Olympics . Coubertin was successful in adding soccer as an event.

  • When did the women's soccer game start being played in the Olympics?

    Women’s soccer entered the Olympic arena in 1996, after a lengthy debate. The first year of the game was organized as an eight-team tournament with two groups and a final round. The USA won the gold medal that year beating China in the finals by scoring one goal to nil (Gottlieb).

    The next Olympics were held in Sydney where all teams played four games, including three group stage matches and one match for fifth place with full points (three points for wins, one point for draws), so there were no direct knockout rounds like before. In addition, two teams advanced from each group instead of just one team advancing which meant more playing time.

  • What happens if Olympic soccer games end in ties?

    If Olympic soccer games end in ties, the teams will compete in a shootout to determine a winner. This is an exciting way to break a tie and determine a champion, but it can also be nerve-wracking for players and fans alike. Each team gets five shots, and the first team to score more goals than the other wins. If both teams have scored the same number of goals after five rounds of shots, then extra time (or sudden death) will be played until one team scores again and becomes the winner. So far, this has only happened once in Olympic history – at the 2012 men’s tournament. Spain and Italy were tied after 90 minutes of regulation play, so they went into overtime. Spain finally won the game after 26 extra minutes of play. The 2012 women’s tournament also had a shootout to determine the winner, but no overtime was necessary.

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