LONDON—In what sounds like the sort of probe they used to undertake on Lubyanka Square, FIFA on Tuesday began a closed investigation into the post-match behaviour of Canada’s women’s soccer team after their semifinal loss to the United States.
In a two-sentence release, FIFA would only state that it is “analyzing incidents that occurred after the conclusion of the match.”
Canada’s coach John Herdman would not confirm that captain Christine Sinclair is the focus of this in-camera inquisition. But it sure sounds like she is.
“To see them girls (Monday) night, they were broken. And then they have to go and do a job in front of the media,” Herdman said. “I just hope people have empathy for what they were going through.”
What they were going through was a towering and deeply understandable rage after having been cheated of their chance for gold by Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen.
In the 78th minute of a one-goal game, Pedersen called a six-second violation on goalkeeper Erin McLeod for holding the ball too long. That led directly to the tying goal and the eventual loss. Since that call is essentially unheard of, the entire footballing world headed to the Internet.
The last time anyone can recall that happening? In 2002 — Bolton/Newcastle. It was a scandal when it happened then. And there weren’t any medals at stake.
Shortly afterward, Sinclair said: “It’s a shame in a game like that that was so important, the ref decided the result before it started.”
Melissa Tancredi may also share the pain after she told the ref: “Put on your American jersey. That’s who you played for today.”
And, now that we’re at it, how about Herdman himself: “It felt like it was America and the referee against us.”
For public consumption, Herdman suggested that the team has retreated into an informational vacuum in an effort to focus on Thursday’s bronze medal match against France.
“(Sinclair)’s aware that something’s going on, but they’re not aware to what extent it is. And to be honest, neither am I,” Herdman said.
He stated he does not know the timeline of the investigation, who or what it involves, and what possible outcomes might be expected. Kids living in bubbles know more about what’s going on than John Herdman.
“We’re not absolutely clear on what’s being investigated,” Herdman said. “I’m not trying to give it any power or attention.”
Sadly, it does not require Herdman’s attention in order to be powerful. Without Sinclair, Canada has tiny chance against a team that pummelled them 4-0 in last year’s Women’s World Cup.
FIFA is notoriously all over the map on suspensions, but this feels ominous. Fixing or the suggestion thereof is one of that governing body’s overwhelming preoccupations. Though the call Pedersen made was outrageous, it was correct according to the Laws of the Game. Sinclair does not have a legalistic leg to stand on here.
This situation is so full of ironies you could melt it down into an anvil.
Prime among them? Pedersen’s boss, FIFA’s head of women’s refereeing, is Quebecer Sonia Denoncourt. She was laying low in London on Tuesday.
Pedersen was apparently goaded into the decision by U.S. forward Abby Wambach.
During the second half, Wambach began counting aloud in the ref’s vicinity every time McLeod took hold of the ball. She got to 10 on the play in question.
“You can states it’s gamesmanship. You can state it’s smart. But I’m a competitor,” Wambach told Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel on Tuesday.
Wambach may be the instigator, but she isn’t at fault. Faced with the ire of one of the ideal women’s players in history, Pedersen folded. She made a nervous call that fundamentally modified this competition and likely derailed her officiating career.
Even Herdman admitted it was the smart move: “Good on her. (Wambach) found a loophole in the system.”
As you might imagine, the braintrust of the Canadian Soccer Association was frothing after the game, but there’s tiny they can do aside from stamp their collective feet. There was no official protest, and none will be undertaken.
Welcome to international football, where common sense goes in one door, falls into a wormhole and walks out the other side into 1984.
FIFA remains one of those sports organizations that takes its bureaucratic cues from the Politburo. Its decision will be made in secret council. Its judgment is final. Successful appeals are exceedingly rare.
While the Laws may have been adhered to on Tuesday night — though selectively — the spirit of the game was taken out back and worked over.
It appears that Canada may now catch a rebound beating — cheated by the ref one game, stripped bare by her bosses just ahead of the next.
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