OPINION: It's bizzare when you think about it.
The rule which allows international under-23 teams to include three over-age players is about as logical as the Silver Ferns having two blokes. A primary school rugby team with a couple of dads. It's the result of a compromise between the wheelers and dealers at Fifa and the Olympics, and their dispute centred over, surprise surprise – money.
Football has always been a massive earner for the Olympics and those running the Games want to have the top teams with all their best players – Argentina with Lionel Messi, Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo, etc – to maximise the width of their brown envelopes.
But Sepp Blatter and his equally dodgy predecessors at Fifa argued that the Games would be too similar to the World Cup and would detract from the real thing, thereby impacting negatively on their own retirement funds.
So Fifa told the Olympics "you can have our second biggest tournament, the under-23 world cup, and just to keep you happy we'll let the teams bring three over-age players. Now shoo."
So we have this strange handicap event. Yes, it's the same for both teams, but it still creates an uneven playing field where some of the players are operating on a different level. Veteran New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen on the park with kids? Yes, that happens anyway in regular football, but when it does it's because the selector has decided the kids are good enough. It's been done by choice, not by some weird twist of the rules. Put it this way. Would you have 25 and 30-year-olds playing in the under-17 world cup? Same thing.
But that's academic.
The rule is there, and it gives New Zealand's Olympic hopes a huge lift. It's doubtful that any other nation at the Games will be boosted as much by any of their over-age players as New Zealand will be by Nelsen.
If the Premier League stalwart's influence on the senior All Whites is huge, his influence on the under-23s will be massive.
The choices of striker Shane Smeltz, and particularly midfielder Michael McGlinchey, are also good ones, giving the team experience right down the middle of the pitch. Let's forget about the Oceania Nations Cup debacle for a minute, and assume that with McGlinchey providing passes for the likes of Kosta Barbarouses, Smeltz, Marco Rojas and Chris Wood, New Zealand should cause real problems for Belarus in their opening match, and possibly even Egypt and Brazil.
With Nelsen pulling his defence into the right positions, we should be difficult to break down, so there exists a realistic hope that our team can advance beyond the group stage.
LIFE COULD become a real battle for many of the country's football clubs if the Gambling Harm Reduction Bill finds the back of the net. A lot of clubs are dependent on money raised by pokie machines and distributed by Charitable Trusts to help meet costs. Agreed, gambling is a problem for some people. But so is obesity. Are we to banish all food products with sugar and fat because a minority can't moderate their consumption of them? Alcohol gives a lot of people pleasure, but is abused by some. Out with alcohol. And on it goes. People with gambling problems need help, but the rest of us who enjoy putting our money in a slot and pushing a button should be allowed to do so. And if that helps our football clubs, so much the better.
Billy Harris is a former All White.
- © Fairfax NZ News