Soccer star Gareth Bale faces potential FIFA ban for playing exhibition after Olympics withdrawal

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports
Gareth Bale (Getty)
Gareth Bale (Getty)

LONDON – Soccer star Gareth Bale faces a ban from world governing body FIFA for playing against the Los Angeles Galaxy after pulling out of the Olympic Games because of "injury."

Bale was selected to be part of Great Britain's Olympic squad but withdrew citing an ongoing back complaint. However, two days before the first round of the Olympic men’s tournament, he scored for his club team Tottenham Hotspur in its 1-1 draw with the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

Tottenham is in California on a preseason tour and Tuesday's game was an exhibition, yet Bale still appeared to suffer from no restricted movement and seemed to be at full fitness.

His absence from the Great Britain team is seen as a serious blow to the home side’s chances of putting together a deep run at the Summer Games. Great Britain's first game is against a solid Senegal team at Manchester's Old Trafford stadium on Thursday night.

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FIFA president Sepp Blatter led the criticism of Bale and warned that players skipping Olympic duty would be dealt with harshly.

"[Our] position has never been so clear than it is for the Olympics of 2012 and 2016," Blatter said. "The principle is that if a club does not release a player then this association can come to FIFA and we will then ban this player."

In this instance, it is unlikely that the English Football Association would lodge such a complaint. The FA cannot prevent Bale from playing any Tottenham games until the Olympics are over.

Former England international Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter that he was "baffled" by Bale’s actions, claiming he had missed a "once in a lifetime opportunity." But over in the United States, Bale seemed oblivious to any controversy.

"My rehab has gone very well at the club," he told reporters. "We are well ahead of schedule. It is important to get a preseason under my belt so I'm just delighted to be back now without any problems.

"After about 65 minutes I started to cramp up a bit but it was a good workout. It was one that I needed and it was good to get a goal as well."

Rumors that Tottenham boss Andre Villas Boas instigated Bale's Olympic withdrawal are unfounded, according to a Yahoo! Sports source. Although Tottenham is clearly not disappointed by the decision, it was apparently Bale’s own choice.

"The coach was happy for him to go [to the Olympics] although he would have requested that he did not play the first group game," the source said. "But Gareth felt it was right and he is happy with his choice."

Tottenham has deployed a specialist medical team to focus on monitoring Bale, who was lined up for a $75 million transfer to Barcelona before signing a new contract with the English Premier League club over the summer.

"We initially expected that Gareth would return for our [game] in Baltimore on Saturday," said a club statement. "But the winger’s rehabilitation has gone better than expected, having traveled out with dedicated medical personnel.

"Gareth will continue his recovery program with the target of being fully match-fit before the state of the Premier League."

Tottenham begins its Premier League season on August 18 at Newcastle United.

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