Fri, September 20, 2013

Soccer ref was in over her head

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Referee Christina Pedersen of Norway (L) officiates during the London 2012 Olympic Games women's semi-final football match between the US and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England on August 6, 2012. AFP PHOTO / ANDREW YATES


LONDON - There was so much emotion — anger, frustration, animosity, hostility — on the part of the Canadian women’s soccer team at Old Trafford Monday night and, to a large extent, it was justified.

In a game like an Olympic semifinal, against a heavily-favoured opponent, there is so much invested on the part of the players. To have it decided in a fashion that is deemed unfair treatment on the part of the referee is going to trigger those emotions both on the part of the players and a country that seemed to grind to a halt to watch something special unfolding.

All those emotions are understandable.

But did they obscure the truth about women’s soccer and, in fact, most women’s team sports?

Women’s team sports are a relatively new phenomenon, but, as we have seen in soccer, the quality of play has improved dramatically over the last few years. As we saw Monday night, the quality of the officiating doesn’t seem to be keeping pace.

I know in a perfect world, the bodies that oversee women’s sports want those sports to be officiated by women.

Women officials certainly don’t have exclusive ownership of incompetent performances (any NHL fan will tell you that).

But the sense Monday night was referee Christiana Pedersen of Norway was in over her head.

The sequence that led to the tying goal had veteran soccer observers scratching their heads as there were a number of decisions made by Pedersen that could be questioned.

Were any of them a misapplication of the rules?

Probably not.

They were judgement calls and Pedersen will have to held accountable for those.

With about 10 minutes left in regulation time and Canada leading 3-2, she missed an apparent hand ball on the Americans when a Canadian cross hit the American while standing in the U.S. penalty area.

No call, and the U.S. wound up tying the game at the other end of the pitch.

After American Megan Rapinoe, who might have been the American’s best player on the night, curled a shot to the backpost, Canadian goaltender Erin McLeod wrapped it up and held it on the ground, for too long, apparently.

Pedersen called her for a rare delay of game penalty. Goaltenders have six seconds to put the ball back in play. McLeod, who said she was reminded at the beginning of the second half by one of the linesman about not delaying play, said she was told it took her 10 seconds.

In other international matches, in a similar situation, the referee might have brandished a yellow card and given the goaltender a warning. In this case, Pedersen gave the Americans an indirect free kick from the top of the penalty area. Rapinoe launched a rocket that glanced off the arm of Canada’s Diana Matheson and then struck Marie-Eve Nault on the arm as she recoiled.

Pedersen called a hand ball. Some officials might have considered the speed of the shot and let them play on since it was clearly not an intentional hand ball. Nault had no time to react.

But Pedersen awarded the Americans a penalty shot and star Abby Wambach scored the 143rd goal of her career to tie the game.

Of course Pedersen’s calls impacted the game; the judgements on every play made by the referee do in every game.

It’s the nature of sport.

Canadians are upset and understandably so since the application of a couple of rules — the delay of game penalty and the over-the-top hand ball call on Nault — were outside the norm.

Monday’s game will go down as the most memorable game in women’s soccer history, such as it is, for a lot of reasons.

Hopefully one is this: it pointed out again how important it is, moving forward, to have female referees whose levels of competency match those of the players.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson