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Nov 14, 2011

Matildas have potential Olympic lifeline

The Matildas' shattered Olympic dreams could be revived as Australia appeals to have North Korea banned from next year's London Games over a doping row.

The national women's soccer team narrowly missed a 2012 Olympic berth, finishing third at the Asian qualifying tournament in September behind Japan and North Korea, who claimed the two Games spots.

But Matildas players and Olympic and football officials are not happy that North Korea were allowed to contest the qualifiers and believe Australia should take their place.

North Korea were banned by FIFA from competing in the 2015 Women's World Cup following a doping scandal at the 2011 World Cup in Germany in June-July.

Five players tested positive to steroids and received bans of up to 18 months, while the team's doctor was banned for six years.

It's understood FIFA's disciplinary committee wanted to punish North Korea only in the same competition, and therefore did not extend the whole team ban to the Olympics.

Matildas players are incensed at the decision, especially as no drug tests were taken at the Olympic qualifying tournament in China, in which they suffered a key opening 1-0 loss to North Korea.

The Australian Olympic Committee confirmed on Tuesday it had weighed in on the issue of Olympic eligibility by writing to the International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Authority last month.

However it's understood the IOC's hands are tied by world football's governing body FIFA, which runs the Olympic tournament.

Football Federation Australia national teams chief John Boultbee said FFA had also asked WADA to appeal FIFA's decision.

But the FFA is also yet to make any inroads.

"We think it's strange that a team is banned for 2015 and not 2012 so we have raised the issue with WADA, the IOC and FIFA but so far to no avail," Boultbee told AAP.

"We recognise there's an element of self interest from our point of view because we were third in the qualification tournament but also we are not happy that what FIFA has found to be systematic doping, has not been dealt with in the most effective way."

It's believed Matildas players were initially instructed not to comment on the issue but they've opted to speak publicly because of their frustration with the situation.

Matildas captain Melissa Barbieri stressed the women's side did want to make excuses for their failed campaign but simply could not fathom why no drug testing was done at the qualifying tournament.

"It's surprising to say the least, especially when a team has been caught with drugs in their system for the World Cup a month beforehand and to have no drug testing," Barbieri told AAP.

"They (North Korea) played better than us and we lost the game.

"But it plays on your mind - do you really believe that they didn't have any drugs in their system when they were playing us as well? Who knows?"

While the five North Korean players banned at the World Cup did not take part in the Olympic qualification and cannot compete in London, veteran Matildas defender Thea Slatyer said she was concerned a host of new players had been brought into the squad but not tested.

Slatyer, who would have played her last international tournament in London, said the players had been left disheartened.

"We're a very fair country. We've always played fair and played by the rules," Slatyer said.

"... It does make you really upset to know that a team that has conducted this behaviour is kind of allowed to get away with not being tested."

FIFA told AAP in a statement the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament had not been considered a priority for doping control.

"As due to logistical reasons, FIFA cannot conduct at all qualifying games doping controls," the statement read.

"Therefore, an assessment is done by the FIFA Anti-Doping Unit and it is decided at which matches doping controls will be performed."

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