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FIFA says soccer clubs don’t have to release players for Rio Olympics

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Soccer clubs are under no obligation to allow their players to play in the Rio Olympic men’s tournament, FIFA said Friday.

“The event is not part of the international match calendar,” FIFA said in a press release. “However, FIFA is asking for support from the clubs to allow players who are called up by their national teams to be given the chance to be part of the Olympic experience.”

The move could impact Brazil’s biggest sports star, Barcelona striker Neymar, who has said he’s made his intentions to play in the Olympic soccer tournament known to his club.

In 2012, FIFA ordered club teams to allow under-23 players to compete in the Olympics. In 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Barcelona did not have to release Lionel Messi to compete in the Olympics, though Messi did end up winning gold with Argentina anyway.

In May, Brazil national team coach Dunga, who is also the under-23 Olympic team coach after the firing of Alexandre Gallo, said Neymar’s participation in the Rio Olympics was dependent on talks with Barcelona, according to O Globo.

Neymar may be the 2016 Olympic host nation’s most famous potential Olympian, but there is at least some question of whether he will suit up at the Rio Games.

Copa America Centenario is slated to take place from June 3-26. Soccer at the 2016 Olympics takes place from Aug. 3-20. Neymar plays for Barcelona in La Liga, whose season usually begins in late August. That would be a busy summer of national team duty, which may not sit well with Barcelona.

Three of the world’s other top players — Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Paris Saint-Germain’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Messi — also play internationally for nations that qualified for Rio 2016 (Portugal, Sweden and Argentina).

World Cup winner Germany also qualified for Rio.

Olympic soccer teams are made up of players aged 23 and under. There’s also an option of having three over-age players, which is where Neymar, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic and Messi would come in.

Some nations take greater advantage of the Olympic rule that allows three over-age players more than others. In 2012, Brazil used its exceptions on three exceptional players —HulkMarcelo and Thiago Silva — who started for Brazil in the 2014 World Cup.

Brazil, which has won five World Cups, has never won Olympic gold in soccer. It won silver in 1984, 1988 and 2012 and bronze in 1996 and 2008.

Neymar, then 20, was part of the 2012 Olympic team that lost to Mexico in the final.

Also Friday, FIFA confirmed that the Qatar 2022 World Cup would not interfere with the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, as the IOC has said for months.

The 2022 World Cup dates are Nov. 21-Dec. 18, which will coincide with various winter sports seasons.

MORE SOCCER: World Cup players left off U.S. Olympic soccer qualifying roster

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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