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Women’s Soccer: “You cheated!” Really?

by Meg Heery

August 8, 2012

On Monday, in the soccer field at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, the United States and Canada met up in the Olympic women's soccer semifinal. It was a terrific, physical, aggressive, gripping match -- even for someone like me who does not watch that much women's soccer. And where did we find ourselves, yet again?  Not marveling at the amazing display of athleticism, but hand-wringing over accusations of cheating.
It was an amazing match, by any standard. In the 22nd minute of play, Canadian forward Christine Sinclair scored against the U.S. -- the first time this had happened since the Olympic quarterfinal in 2008. At 54 minutes, it became a tit-for-tat between Sinclair and U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe, and at minute 73 Canada was up 3-2. Then there was a penalty that resulted in an indirect free kick (an easy shot to miss), which resulted in another penalty kick and tied the game. In extra time, U.S. striker Alex Morgan headed in a goal from six yards out.

Game over. The U.S. heads to London to play Japan for the gold medal.
It's the rematch of the 2011 Women's World Cup that everyone's been
salivating for.

Now, about that penalty.

In soccer, there's a rule about the goalkeeper not holding up the match by hanging on to the ball too long before putting it in play. No one really pays attention to that rule. Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod violated it, maybe or maybe not after a warning, maybe or maybe not with Abby Wambach counting the seconds in the referee's  ear.  The ref, Christiana Pederson, invoked the rule, which resulted in the free kick, which resulted in the penalty kick, which resulted in the tie score.

Alex Morgan's amazing header in extra time, which resulted in the U.S. win, happened all by itself.

That call on McLeod is extremely rare -- as in, it never happens. Pia Sundhage, the coach for the U.S. team, had never seen it, she told NBC News. Commentator Steve Davis said the same.

Rare might make it questionable; it might even make it irresponsible. It doesn't de facto make it illegal or intentionally biased. I also don't think it's a reason to cry on the field, as did Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt,   no matter how frustrated and angry they were. It's undignified. So is pointing fingers, as Sinclair did right after the game: "We felt that the referee took it away from us, so, yes, we are disappointed. We feel like we didn't lose, we feel like it was taken from us. It's a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref decided the result before the game started."

It would appear that the U.S. team's style of play elicited ire well before this match. Before the game, John Herdman, coach of Canada's team, told the Associated Press that "some of the blocking tactics" were  "highly illegal" and required monitoring:  "Obviously they're trying to free up a key player, but in a very illegal way.... The U.S., it's what they do well."

All right, then. The referee is cheating because she made a stupid, but not illegal, call, and the U.S. team is cheating because they play rough.


As it turns out, FIFA, the world soccer regulatory body, agrees with me.

When news first broke that FIFA had commenced an investigation  I began to wonder: Would this have happened in a men's match? My answer, written in an earlier draft of this column, was No. Why? Because it is expected that men will push the boundaries.

As it turns out, FIFA is far more concerned about the whining than about the referees, declaring today that it is "analyzing incidents that occurred after the conclusion" of the game. As I write, it's not clear whether Sinclair and Schmidt face suspension or the team fines. Either way, I say: good for FIFA.

Here's the thing: Women's soccer is different from the men's game in that the women generally follow the rules, such as no touching, no hitting, no "playing the man," as it were, no holding the ball for more than six seconds. Men foul more, and when they do they foul harder. As a result, the way rules are enforced has become more flexible: instead of a free kick, a
warning yellow card.

The U.S. women's team has taken a page from that playbook.They've pushed their sport in the same direction that it's gone on the men's side. If the U.S. – Canada game was any indication, their methods yield closer, more physical, more exciting games. One would think that's progress.

Canada didn't benefit from complaining about a call that didn't go their way – a call that followed the letter of soccer law – while accusing the U.S. team of playing dirty pool. A better response might have been to set the hypocrisy aside and expend their anger on the soccer pitch.

Back to Cafe Home

Meg Heery is a freelance editor and a regular contributor to the Jersey
City Independent and NEW magazine. (On Twitter, check for her more
frequent notes on the Games@megheery.)

See also:

Tim Grainey, "The Rise and Fall and Possible Rise of Women's Pro Soccer." On the Issues Magazine, Spring 2012.

Rachel Toor, “Nine Titles Thinking About Title IX.” On the Issues Magazine, Spring 2012.

Susan Bandy, "Curious Tension: Feminism and the Sporting Woman." On the Issues Magazine, Spring 2012.


Bryan Beckstead posted: 2012-10-04 13:46:32

FIFA to hold hearing over Christine Sinclair’s comments about Olympic referee after loss to the U.S. Ms Sinclair demonstrated the worst kind of poor sportsmanship when she accused the referee of fixing the football match, Canada versus the USA , London 2012 Olympics . Complaining about the referring and accusing the referee of cheating and fixing the match are two entirely different issues. As a proud Canadian I was shocked and dismayed at Ms Sinclair’s accusations, accusations that were initially spoken directly after a loss to the USA team, after a hard fought and emotional game. I, as many other Canadians have done, have waited patiently for cooler heads to prevail. Unfortunately, Ms. Sinclair, even though given, by the press, many opportunities to, retract, change or alter her accusations, has chosen not too so. Ms Sinclair put a permanent stain on her sport, the Olympics, International Football, everyone associated with that match, as well as Canada as a nation, all because she was frustrated and bitter about losing a football match. Where is her proof? Up to this point, Ms Sinclair’s accusations are totally unsubstantiated accusations and without any merit what so ever. If she can not provide concrete third part collaborating evidence that the match between Canada and the USA at the London Olympics was fixed and " decided before the game started" , she should, even at this late date, do what is honorable and decent, reflective of how the majority of Canadians would do, offer up an apology to the referee of that match, her opponents, FIFA, the Olympic movement, for her abhorrent comments following that match. This is not about whether that football match was poorly officiated or not, this is about the captain of the Canadian Women's Soccer Team, Christine Sinclair accusing the referee of that match of cheating and fixing that game, up to this point , a total unsubstantiated accusation and without any merit. Its time Christine Sinclair stepped up and did the honorable thing, make this right and return some honor and dignity back to herself and this sorry situation. Its time, decency and honor were restored.

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