Canada’s heartbreak: 4-3 semi-final soccer loss ripe with controversy ( Comment )
Injustice in sport has existed as long as sport itself.
Injustice in sport has existed as long as sport itself.
Olympic history is filled with countless missed calls, mismanagement and general ineptitude.
Every four years, unknown athletes enter our lives and rise to prominence overnight. Millions follow their achievements and their disappointments. Glued to their television sets, the fans are granted access to the finest display of athleticism in the world. We celebrate with each win and we share in the disappointment of each loss.
We do so from the comfort of our living rooms, where we are safe. Where we are free of the mental and physical investment made by the athletes, but in our hearts, our patriotism rings true.
A slight against our team, against our athlete, becomes a slight against our nation.
For better or for worse, nationalism is not only accepted—but encouraged.
The athletes become polarizing figures.
For years they toil endlessly at the their craft, until they are catapulted into the spotlight and then 16 days later, fade back into the general obscurity from which they rose.
Their moments at the top of the world are marked by physical dominance and majesty. By their perfection.
And sometimes, by controversy.
Olympic bans, terrorist attacks, doping scandals, racism, thrown matches and overmatched and under-qualified officials.
The 1972 Olympic basketball finals between the Soviet Union and the United States remains the quintessential example of a stolen game.
Trailing by a single point, 50-49, the Soviets took a timeout with one second remaining in the game.
Until Dr. William Jones, the British secretary of Fiba, ruled that the clock be reset to three seconds, without explanation.
Despite protest from the Americans, play resumed and a long inbounds pass from the Soviets was deflected.
The buzzer sounded and the U.S. celebrated.
It was their seventh straight Olympic title and solidified their dominance in the sport.
To that point, no American team had ever lost a game of basketball at the Olympics.
But then the players were called back onto the court.
It wasn’t over, according to the referees.
“If you don’t continue to play, you forfeit,” the American team was told.
Delirious with emotion, the U.S. team went back onto the court and the clock was once again reset to three seconds.
The Soviets made another inbounds pass, this time the ball found its way into the hands of Alexander Belov.
He shook off his American defence and softly laid the ball in as the buzzer sounded. The Soviets celebrated and American players stood in place, empty expressions draping their faces.
The U.S. immediately appealed the decision.
They took their argument to the Olympic jury, which had five representatives, three of them from Communist countries.
The Cuban, Polish and USSR officials all voted in favour of the Soviets.
The decision stood, 3-2.
To this day, the athletes that made up that U.S. squad refuse to accept their silver medals.
The club of wronged teams and athletes is as varied as it is old.
Distinguished in its own the right, these are moments, teams and individuals that will forever carry an asterisk.
Yesterday, it was Canada’s turn to join the club.
The women’s senior soccer team met up with the United Sates on a cold night in Manchester.
They weren’t supposed to be there.
Many of the experts didn’t expect Canada to make it past the preliminary round.
For 123 minutes, the 19 athletes from across the nation had our undivided attention as they battled a juggernaut American team in the semi-finals.
Christine Sinclair, already an iconic figure in the sport, showed the world why she’s one of the best to ever play the game.
Single handedly, she put a team, and a country, on her shoulders.
She willed herself to three goals, her performance in the Old Trafford Stadium forever enshrining her in the folklore of the game.
The U.S was equally as resilient.
They refused to back down. Refused to give into a team that had risen beyond expectations. A team that was past the point of playing for pride, the most dangerous type of team there is.
With the game hanging in the balance, Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen made her presence felt.
Canada was ahead 3-2, when Pedersen called Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod for holding the ball for longer than six seconds.
On the ensuing freekick, Canada’s Marie-Eve Nault was called for a handball, resulting in a penalty shot for the U.S.
Abby Wambach, a veteran of the American squad, made quick work of the penalty, burying the shot into the back of the net.
In extra time, Canada remained stoic, trading scoring opportunities with the U.S. but it was a header in the final seconds that ensured the victory for the Americans.
Alex Morgan leaped into the sky in the 123rd minute and smashed the ball over the outstretched hands of McLeod.
Canada was looking for its first win against the U.S. since March of 2001, a span of 27 games and 11 years.
And they almost had it.
The Canadian players collapsed to the pitch.
Like fallen soldiers, they laid on their backs, their heads in their hands and their hearts in their throats.
Frustration boiled over on the sidelines.
“She’ll have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays, she’s got that to live with,” Canadian head coach John Herdman told the media after the game in reference to Pedersen’s officiating.
“We’ll move on from this, I wonder if she’ll be able to.”
It was an instant classic and a defining moment for Canada in these Summer Olympics.
The Canadians, as tirelessly and as assiduously as they played, were not without flaws.
Still, controversy abounds.
Pedersen’s officiating will forever be linked to these semi-finals.
It’s a stain on a breathless match, a match that should be celebrated for its skill, instead of its controversy.
It was a match and a moment that captivated the more than 26,000 in attendance and millions tuning in around the world.
On Thursday, Canada will play France for the bronze medal. A win will give Canada its first traditional team sport medal since the men’s basketball squad earned a silver in the1936 Berlin Games.
But it won’t repair the damage.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed and upset,” Sinclair said afterwards.
“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.”
While one nation grieves, another celebrates.
The Olympics, for all their wrongs, for all their mismanagement, for all their environmental, economical, social and political effects, are a spectacle we just can’t turn away from.
On Thursday night, we’ll be back in the comfort of our living rooms and our women’s soccer team will be back on the pitch, where once again they will be overmatched and under experienced.
Where once again, their hearts will be on the line.
But this time, they’ll know, they’ve already captured ours.