Saturday, October 13, 2012

Controversy? Just Sweep it Over There Under the Rug

Well, after a bit of noise on this topic this summer things pretty much quieted down - until yesterday. FIFA announced yesterday that Canadian team captain Christine Sinclair would receive and undisclosed fine and a 4 international game suspension for her comments after the Canadian semi-final loss at the Olympics this summer.

I for one think that this punishment [if you can call it that] sends the following message: "We are not going to let you get away with lobbing accusations at our officials, however, since we're not prepared to discuss if there was any truth to your allegations here's your slap on the wrist. Now everyone just stop talking about it."


I know of at least one person who feels that Ms. Sinclair should be banished from soccer for life. He calls what was said "defamation". Well, sir, it's only defamation if what was said was untrue and in this case the waters appear cloudy enough that you're going to have a hard rime proving that Christine's comments were completely unfounded.


The official had been making questionable calls throughout the game and the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back - the call that referee Christiana Pedersen made that resulted in the kick that led to the tying goal - was so out of place that soccer fans and commentators had to struggle to find a case of that particular infraction having been called before. That's an inconsistency that happened to occur at a crucial moment in a game, and Ms. Sinclair knew it. Everyone playing knew it, and everyone watching knew it. FIFA and the IOC knew it. The Americans definitely knew it. 


In fact, one American player admitted afterwards she had been attempting to influence the referee the whole game. All Christine Sinclair - and many of the other Canadian players - did was call bullshit (and rightly so, in this writer's opinion).

One thing I do know is that having played a number of officiated team sports at various levels there has always been a saying that, when found to be true, seemed to result in optimal results for both competing teams:


You know you had good referees when you can't remember if they were there.

There are also a few other applicable phrases that come to mind:

Just let 'em play
Commonly used in hockey to indicate that it would be best if the teams were left to their own devices to decide an outcome. This usually results in minor infractions on both sides being ignored and the pace of the game being unusually high. This approach runs the risk that one side will attempt to take advantage of the loose rules, but more often than not it just creates an atmosphere where the players truly decide the outcome.


A strike in the 1st inning should be a strike in the bottom of the 9th
A baseball reference indicating that an umpire sets the tone for the game by calling balls and strikes a certain way - and remains consistent. Upsetting this consistency results in controversy later in the game when something that's been called a strike all game suddenly becomes a ball. The manager's punishment for arguing this usually results in an ejection ("getting tossed") and lots and lots of yelling.


A penalty in the 1st period is a penalty in overtime
A corollary to the aforementioned baseball saying. If a hockey referee calls a penalty early in the game, but doesn't maintain consistency, this results in confusion among the players as to what is acceptable and what is not, and in both my examples ultimately allows the official to have more control over the outcome.


There's a hierarchy for all officials in all sports at all levels. You'll often hear sportscasters talk about it before important games. "This is so-and-so's 5th Stanley Cup Final appearance" or "So-and-so has worked hard for the last few years and deserves to be officiating in his first playoff game". Officials work their way up the ladder and the best ones get the important games. Referees at that level, for those games, should simply be better than the rest. Not infallible, but certainly the cream of the crop. 


An official should never decide a game, especially one of magnitude, and that's exactly what happened this past summer.


Now, I wouldn't say that this controversy is anything close to what the NHL had to deal with back in 1999 with the whole toe-in-the-crease incident, but it's in the same ballpark and I'm afraid that the comments and decisions that have come down are as good as it is going to get for either side. 


~afb~

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