By Duncan Mackay

Lionel_Messi_celebrating_goal_for_ArgentinaDecember 3 - Players like Lionel Messi (pictured) and Wayne Rooney will be eligible to play at London 2012 after FIFA today decided to retain its current under-23 status plus three over-age players at the Olympics.

A working group of the world governing body had been looking into the idea of changing the system to under-21 after the bigger Confederations expressed their desire for the change.

But the FIFA's ruling Executive Committee, meeting at Robben Island today to discuss the issue, decided to retain the current format.

Jerome Valcke, the FIFA general secretary, said: "There were quite extensive discussions between the various confederations but it was decided to keep the current system.

"In some Confederations, the qualification process has to start sooner, meaning very early 2010, that's why, instead of having discussions and discussions over trying to discuss what's the best, it was decided unanimously to support them for this under-23 and the current status quo.

"It's true that some confederations like UEFA and South America (CONMEBOL) said they would have prepared the other option, which was also for discussion, the under-21, but finally they understood the situation and said they will be fine with the under-23."

Jacques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), had warned FIFA President Sepp Blatter that the sport risked elimination if it adopted the controversial proposals to make the tournament an event only open to under-21 players.

He wanted to keep the current under-23 format which also allows three over-age players to take part, a format that would Britain to pick someone like Rooney or, even, David Beckham at London 2012.

The European Club Association (ECA), representing 144 clubs from 53 nations, had wanted Blatter to stand by statements that the London tournament should be an under-21 event.

But Valcke did not rule out the possibility of a change in the system for Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

He said: "There will be a meeting in February 2010 in Zurich to discuss the period beyond 2012 but, for the time being, the decision is to stay as we are."

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