Absences no cause for alarm

Brazil’s failure to qualify for the Olympic soccer tournament is the latest in a series of blows to fans expecting to see the very best at this year’s Athens Games. Following the shock failure of the US men’s baseball team in November, this week saw Brazil’s hopes of adding a first Olympic soccer gold to set alongside their five World Cups disappear with a surprise 1-0 defeat to Paraguay. It might be an Under-23 tournament spiced up with a sprinkling of overage players, but any team wearing the famous gold shirts would have been one of the biggest draws of the August 13-29 Games. Throw in the possible absence of the Dutch reigning Olympic men’s hockey champions and one of the leading contenders for the blue riband of the athletics program, British 100-meters hope Dwain Chambers, and the event looks to be losing some of its star attractions. It is nothing new, however. In the first modern Olympics, in 1896, the competitors were a mixture of mainly unknowns or foreigners who just happened to be in Athens at the time. In the tradition that saw local shepherd Spyros Louis win the classic marathon 108 years ago, Athens 2004, the organizing committee, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are quite happy to see new and often unexpected names continue to be adorned with the laurel wreath. «If we had the same champions all the time it would be boring,» IOC chief Jacques Rogge said last week. «That’s what sport needs: short careers and each time new champions coming.» The Dutch men’s hockey team has yet to qualify five months before the Games while Chambers is likely to miss out through a drugs ban. The European 100-meters champion tested positive late last year for the steroid THG (tetrahydrogestrinone). He now faces a two-year IAAF ban which, if imposed, will bring with it a lifetime ban from the Olympics. The organizing committee’s Olympic football tournament manager, Patrick Comninos, said that while the loss of Brazil was a blow to the tournament, the beauty of sport ensured the best teams in the world always turned up on the day. «The Brazilians would have added flair but the standard of soccer during the Games will still be the highest ever seen in Greece,» he said. The absence of Sydney 2000 baseball champions the United States is a blow, despite the fact that the team does not include any of the sport’s major league stars, but organizers hope Cuba, Japan and Canada can make up for the loss. «The American community here was abuzz with their team coming and we may lose out on some tickets because of that,» the organizing committee’s baseball competition manager, Angelos Dimitropoulos, told Reuters. «But Japan are a strong side and we have a flood of Japanese fans coming for that, and the Canadians also have now a clear shot at the gold medal as well,» he said. «Also the fact that the Greek team includes several Greek Americans means there will be great support from American fans for our team,» Dimitropoulos said. Baseball is not played in Greece and organizers had to scour the United States to find enough players with Greek roots to field a team. Overall, Games marketing officials were confident that the high-profile absentees and possible no-shows would not affect revenue that has already exceeded initial expectations of 200 million euros ($250.3 million) by some 45 percent.

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