Soccer players may defy Bundesliga teams

/ Source: Associated Press Sports

Some Bundesliga players are threatening to defy their clubs in a dispute over whether they can play in the Beijing Olympics, with FIFA and the IOC also stepping up pressure to force teams to back down.

The International Olympic Committee and world football's governing body has told the Bundesliga teams their players will be suspended from playing club matches during the Aug. 8-24 games if they aren't released.

Schalke defender Rafinha said he will ignore his club's refusal to release him, and plans to meet up with fellow Brazilian and Werder Bremen midfielder Diego in Paris to catch a plane to Singapore. Bremen has also said it will not allow Diego to play in Beijing.

"I don't believe I will fly with Schalke to training camp on Monday, but on Tuesday with Brazil to the Olympics,'' the 22-year-old Rafinha was quoted as saying Sunday in the Bild am Sonntag weekly.

FIFA insisted earlier this month that clubs are obligated to release players aged 23 or under "in view of the importance of the Olympic tournament for the entire sporting movement in general and football in particular.''

However, the Bundesliga clubs argue that the Olympics aren't on the FIFA international match calendar that obligates them to release players. Their players would miss two league games and some would be absent at European matches.

The 23-year-old Diego, one of the Bundesliga's best players, has pushed hard to play the Olympics, but Bremen has been adamant about its refusal.

"We will remain by our no, even if FIFA asks us for the release,'' Bremen manager Klaus Allofs said Sunday.

The German league plans to investigate whether football's world governing body has the legal right to suspend their players during the Olympics. Attempts to find a solution to the conflict with FIFA have failed.

"Unfortunately, we haven't received a usable answer from FIFA despite diverse queries,'' said Holger Hieronymus, the Bundesliga's acting president.

However, FIFA spokesman Alain Leiblang told the DPA news agency on Friday that letters have been sent to the clubs outlining their position.

"We have informed the clubs that they must release the under-23 players,'' Leiblang said.

Each Olympic squad can take three players older than 23, but their clubs are not required to release them.

Other European clubs have also tried to keep their stars out of the Olympics, but with mixed results.

AC Milan released Ronaldinho as part of the deal to sign him from FC Barcelona — which had refused to let him play. The Spanish club granted Lionel Messi permission, but still hopes to keep the Argentina winger at home for a Champions League qualifying match.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said he understood the clubs' reluctance to let players miss matches and risk injury, but said football's status as the world's most popular sport had already made it the leading ticket seller at the Olympics.

"Ronaldinho wants to go to the games, so there are a lot of great players who want to go,'' Rogge said. "The games are something special for them.''