The History of Soccer Teams in the Olympic Games

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

In many countries outside the U.S., soccer is known as football. Soccer has a long history as a sport and its use in the Olympic Games dates back to more than a century ago. Different national teams have dominated Olympic soccer during various time periods. Today, soccer is a popular event in the Summer Olympic Games and women’s soccer has recently become part of the Olympic program.


The earliest origins of soccer lie in ancient China, but today’s version of the sport actually comes from medieval England, according to Unfortunately, the violent nature of soccer during medieval times led to a ban on the sport in England for more than 300 years. In the 1500s, public schools in England reintroduced soccer, but with official rules and codes of conduct to prevent violence in the game. Men’s soccer first appeared in the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, France, states. The team representing Great Britain won the gold medal that year, followed by France with silver and Belize with the bronze. During the Summer Olympic Games throughout the first half of the 20th Century, Canada, Denmark, Belize, Uruguay, Italy and Sweden all won gold medals in soccer. In addition to the first Olympic soccer competition, Great Britain also took home the gold in the 1908 and 1912 Games. Technically, soccer was a demonstration sport until the 1908 Olympics, in which the sport became an official Olympic event.


In the 1952 Olympic Games held in Helsinki, Finland, Hungary took home its first gold medal in soccer, Yugoslavia won the silver medal and Sweden took home the bronze. The Soviet Union won the gold medal for soccer in 1956, followed by Yugoslavia in 1960, Hungary in 1964 and 1968, Poland in 1972, East Germany in 1976, Czechoslovakia in 1980 and France in 1984. The Soviet Union won the gold medal in soccer again in 1988, but Brazil’s team began emerging as fierce competition in Olympic soccer during this time, winning silver medals in 1984 and 1988. In the 1992 Olympic Games, Spain won the gold in soccer, but this marked the end of Europe’s domination of the Olympic sport. South American teams such as Brazil and African soccer teams began to dominate the Olympic Games thereafter.


The first non-European team to win a gold medal in soccer was Nigeria’s team in 1996, with Argentina taking home the silver medal and Brazil winning the bronze. Another major milestone in Olympic soccer occurred that year, with the official addition of women’s soccer as an Olympic event in the Summer Games. The first gold medal in women’s soccer went to the U.S. team.

Modern Day

The U.S. women’s soccer team went on to win gold again in 2004 and 2008, but was beat out in the finals during the 2000 Games by Norway. During the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, Cameroon’s team won the gold for men’s soccer, Spain nabbed the silver and Chile took home the bronze. Argentina won gold in men’s soccer during the 2004 and 2008 Games. Also in men’s soccer, Paraguay won silver and Italy won bronze in 2004, while Nigeria took home the silver medal and Brazil the bronze in 2008. Like the last part of the 20th Century, Olympic soccer is still dominated by South American and African teams in the men’s events, while the United States women’s team appears to continue nabbing the gold medals.