FIFA World Cup VS. Olympic Soccer Differences and Which One is Bigger

FIFA World Cup VS. Olympic Soccer Differences and Which One is Bigger

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Top athletes of the world can’t wait for international competitions to showcase their talent and compete against the best that their sport has to offer. The same applies to soccer: FIFA World Cup and the Olympics are two of the biggest happenings in the soccer world. However, one of those is far more anticipated and appreciated by soccer fans. Is the World Cup more popular than the Olympics?

Soccer fans, as well as the majority of soccer players, are fonder of the FIFA World Cup as it is considered to be a superior competition compared to the Olympics. The number of countries participating in the competition, the number of viewers, as well as the period that the competition is held in, are all accounted for in this preference.

Discussing the subtle, as well as the less subtle, differences between these two soccer competitions, today’s article will explain why is the World Cup so much more popular than the Olympics. Read on to find out more about this interesting topic!

FIFA World Cup

The FIFA World Cup is the largest and most highly anticipated international soccer competition on the planet. It is held every four years and 32 of the best national teams compete for the title of the World Champion. Even the qualifying games for the World Cup are more interesting to soccer viewers than the Olympics; there are 211 countries that compete for a spot in the Cup.

Let’s take a look into some of the key characteristics of the FIFA World Cup:

1. Number of Viewers

According to FIFA, the 2018 World Cup Final in Russia was viewed live by 1.12 billion people. In total, over half of the planet’s population has seen this game (3.5 billion viewers). When that entire tournament is taken into consideration, the average game, out of the 64 games played, had 191 million viewers.

2. Earnings

Data shows that the 2018 World Cup in Russia brought around $6 billion in revenue for FIFA. Most of the money came from broadcasting rights, as well as sponsorships with some of the world’s biggest brands. When it comes to how much money the winners of the Cup went home with, World Cup statistics show that the total prize pool for the 2018 World Cup was $791 million – 37% more than four years prior in Brazil.

3. Players and Participants

As per the rules, 32 nations participate in the FIFA World Cup. For this competition, the majority of players will ensure to be available for this competition, as well as bring their A-game. Being able to play against the best opponents in the world is a great motivation and a great way to show the world who’s better, so most players wouldn’t decline their national team’s World Cup invitation for the world.

Olympic Soccer

For some sports, the Olympic Games are considered to be the top of the range of international competition. This is not the case for soccer. Olympic Games are held every four years, typically two years prior to the World Cup. This competition includes 16 teams in the male category, while 12 female soccer teams participate in the Olympics, from six continental confederations.

Here are some of the main characteristics and stats related to Olympic Soccer:

1. Number of Viewers

When looking at the data from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, we can’t help but feel impressed; the Olympics had 3.6 billion viewers across the world. However, this is a piece of statistics that involves all of the sports played. Unfortunately, there are no specific data available for soccer games in the Olympics. However, comparing this with the 3.5 billion people watching a single World Cup game, we can see clearly which competition gets more viewers.

2. Earnings

Earnings are another downside of the Olympics; with all of the disciples, this competition still has less revenue than the FIFA World Cup: Summer Olympics have estimated revenue of $5.2 billion. We should keep in mind that the cost of organizing the Olympics is much bigger than with the World Cup. This leads to much smaller rewards for the competition winners, especially in the soccer category.

3. Players and Participants

Due to age restrictions (more on that later), the time they’re held in, and the lack of competition, most superstar players decline their nation’s invitation to the Olympic soccer team. Most of them do so because they don’t find the competition worth the potential injury; they’d rather save themselves for the club games and the next World Cup.

Differences Between FIFA World Cup and Olympic Soccer

With the basics out of the way, we can get more in-depth with the differences between the FIFA World Cup and Olympic soccer. Here’s how these two seemingly similar tournaments differ:

1. Olympic Soccer is Older Than the FIFA World Cup

Soccer wasn’t played in the first Olympic Games that were held in 1896. However, it was included in the second edition. Since then, every Olympic Games, except for those in 1932, included soccer as a discipline, which is not surprising considering the fact that this sport brings the most viewers and revenue. The World Cup tradition is significantly shorter: The first FIFA World Cup wasn’t held until 1930.

2. FIFA World Cup and Olympic Soccer Have a Different Schedule

Even though both of these events are held every four years, their scheduling functions very differently. For the World Cup, FIFA ensures that the Cup is held once all other national and international competitions are done and all players are available. For the Olympics, however, there’s always a possibility that FIFA won’t allow some of the players to compete due to obligations in other leagues. This is mostly due to the fact that FIFA brings in more revenue from the regular season than it does from the Olympics; if the star players left at the end of the season, the earnings would suffer.

3. Number of Countries Involved

While Olympic soccer has 16 participants in the male category, FIFA World Cup hosts 32 national teams in every tournament. For this reason, the World Cup can last for more than a month, providing the fans with multiple opportunities to cheer for their favorites. A total of 64 games is played in the World Cup, with both competitions having a group stage and a knockout stage.

4. Competition

Competition is much stiffer at the World Cup. Not only is there much more at stake for the players, but also for the fans. Every four years, we are treated with the best that the world of soccer has to offer, with some of the World Cup soccer groups being so stacked with excellent teams that we name them the Group of Death. This, unfortunately, doesn’t happen often with Olympic soccer. The competition is much tamer, as young players are just learning the ropes of the game and testing the waters of international competition.

5. Popularity Among Players

FIFA World Cup and Olympic soccer are regarded in a whole different light among players; most of them don’t care for the Olympics. Even though the reasons for this opinion among soccer players are a complex issue, there’s one main one that leads the pack: The majority of them aren’t allowed to compete in the Olympics:

6. Age Requirements

There’s one major difference that turns players away from the Olympics: Every national team is allowed to have no more than three players who are over the age of 24. The World Cup has no such restrictions, allowing the older soccer players to perform in the tournament. This ensures that the Olympic soccer remains a game in which young players compete and compare against their peers, while also making sure that the FIFA World Cup stays a much more popular competition.

7. Qualification Process

The qualification process might be the only thing in which the World Cup and Olympic Soccer are similar: For both competitions, the host country automatically receives a spot at the tournament. Then, each continent holds competitions to determine the rest of the participants.

The tournaments differ by the fact that, for the World Cup, regular national teams perform, attracting plenty of viewers as this competition turns into a preview of the Cup. For the Olympics, the continental tournaments include the under 21 and under 23 teams, which is much less interesting to watch.

8. Roster Size

When performing in the FIFA World Cup tournament, each national team is allowed to bring a roster of 23 players to the competition. This allows each team manager to have a wide selection of substitute players, in case of poor performance or injury. In the Olympics, however, each team is allowed to bring 18 players.

9. Different Schedules for Men’s and Women’s Tournaments

If you’re a fan of both genders’ soccer, good luck following them during the Olympics; typically, both men’s and women’s soccer games are held at the same time during the Olympics. When it comes to the FIFA World Cup, these competitions are held separately, most of the time an entire year apart.

10. Prestige

Winning the Olympic medal in soccer is a big deal. Some players, such as Messi, find this title to be the crown of their career, as it’s often a once in a lifetime opportunity. For the Olympics, each member of the soccer team that wins the competition gets their own medal to take home. The World Cup winners also receive medals, but the team also gets to hold the trophy until the next tournament. Since 1930, just two trophies have been used which is, we must admit, much more prestigious than receiving just a medal. 

For your convenience, we created a table of the key differences between these two international soccer competitions:

CompetitionHeldNumber of ParticipantsPlayers per TeamAge Requirement
FIFA World CupEvery 4 years32 countries23None
Olympic SoccerEvery 4 years16 countries183 players over the age of 24 per team

Which One is Bigger: FIFA World Cup or Olympic Soccer?

There’s one definitive answer to this question, and it’s the following: FIFA World Cup is bigger than the Olympic soccer in almost every aspect. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which the World Cup trumps Olympic soccer:

1. FIFA World Cup has more viewers than Olympic Soccer

Estimates show that there are around 4 billion soccer fans in the world. Out of that number, more than 3.5 billion have dedicated the time to see the final game of the last World Cup, with more than a billion people watching the game live on their TVs and other devices. We’ve mentioned previously that the average FIFA World Cup game has more than 190 million viewers. Keep in mind that the number of games played during the World Cup is double the number of games played in the Olympics, which makes the average number of viewers even more impressive.

The Olympics are followed by 3.6 billion people, which is more than there are World Cup followers. However, this number is divided into 42 different sports and disciplines that are included in the Olympics.  The fact is, not many soccer fans are willing to dedicate their time to watching Olympic soccer, and we’ve already seen the reasons behind this.

In terms of viewership, the FIFA World Cup is incomparably bigger than Olympic Soccer. Let’s take a look at another category in which we can compare these two competitions:

2. FIFA World Cup brings in more revenue than Olympic Soccer

If we take the FIFA World Cup held in Russia as the reference point once again, we can see that FIFA had a revenue of around $6 billion during the competition. The total investments in the competition were in the $12 billion range. A total of $791 million was dedicated by FIFA for the participating teams and players. This amount includes the prize pool, compensations, insurance, and preparations. The winning team took $38 million at the end of the last tournament.

When it comes to the revenue in the Olympics, we can take various data into account and never match the numbers that the World Cup shows: In 2008, Beijing invested $40 billion in infrastructure, while the revenue for the Olympics that year was at $3.6 billion. In 2012, London spent $18 billion to organize the Olympics, while the reported revenue was at $5.2 billion. Once again, keep in mind that the revenue doesn’t only involve soccer, but also 41 other sport. When it comes to prizes, Olympic medal gold winners typically get $37,500.

Once again, FIFA World Cup comes out on top over the Olympics and Olympic soccer; the World Cup has higher revenue, requires smaller investments, and compensates the winners better.

3. FIFA World Cup attracts more players than Olympic Soccer

The World Cup is a dream for most soccer players on the planet. Being given the chance to play in a game in this tournament, against some of the best national teams out there, is more than enough to satiate every players’ soul. Performing in the finals and winning the thing is a whole different level of success that not many get to experience. FIFA World Cup is an event in which players quit their clubs and defy their managers. It is a competition for which most players leave every ounce of strength on the field.

Olympic soccer is a whole different story. Even though this tournament is an excellent way for young players to showcase their talent, it doesn’t offer much for those who are approaching the upper age limit of 24 years. FIFA even goes as far as to forbid some of the star players from playing in the Olympics if there are still games to be played in their team’s league. There are not many national teams out there who would sacrifice their primary young players and expose them to potential injury just so they can have a go at winning the Olympic gold.

FIFA World Cup is bigger than Olympic soccer in terms of players’ enthusiasm, devotion, and willingness to play in the competition.

Even though Olympic soccer can be a great activity that kills a week of our time every fourth summer, the World Cup is what we, as soccer fans, live for. There’s no feeling like watching those 32 nations collide and battle for an entire month. Seeing the best of the best fight for their chance of raising the World Cup Trophy is a thrill that no money can buy. Each and every one of those players hope to take this Holy Grail of soccer home for the next four years and don’t flinch from doing everything in their power to turn those hopes and dreams into reality. If you couldn’t tell by now, I can’t wait for the next World Cup!

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