Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sinclair showed poor sportsmanship, deserved suspension

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The howls of outrage on greeting Christine Sinclair's four-game suspension from women's international soccer play are as pathetic and ridiculously short-sighted as Sinclair's whining after the national team's loss to the United States in the semifinal at the Summer Olympics in London.

Was there some dubious officiating by the Norwegian referee particularly in the final moments of regulation time? No question. The free kick awarded because the Canadian keeper took too long to move the ball is rarely called but it is in the rule books and the Canadian keeper had been warned about it earlier in the match.

The free kick was called by the referee in the Olympic semifinal, where the Canadians clung to a one-goal lead late in the second half.

Then a second dubious call, for a handball by a Canadian defender. A far more common call but still questionable, since there is no sign the defender moved her arm in a motion to block the ball, She had her arms up and the ball struck her in the wrist.

Still, well within the rights of the referee to call a handball in the penalty box. In this case, the penalty kick brought with it the tying goal. The Americans scored a beautiful goal in extra time and broke the hearts of the Canadian squad, who played bravely.

Up until the free kick, the match had been called well. Maybe, too well. The referee hadn't used her whistle much and allowed a physically aggressive match to play out and she either missed or ignored a Canadian player stepping on the head of an American player.

The officiating in extra time was faultless and the winning goal was well-played by the American player and there was no questioning its legality.

Yet after the game, Sinclair vented publicly against the referee.

"We feel like we didn't lose, we feel like it was taken from us," the veteran captain said.

FIFA, soccer's international governing body, did not disclose whether Sinclair received the suspension (a harsh one by international standards but still within precedent) for those comments or something else she may have said to the referee immediately following the game.

Too much of this support for Sinclair is brainlessly patriotic. Our poor Canadian girls -- sniff -- had those evil empire Americans beaten and then that bad Norwegian ref screwed us.

Really?

The ref's calls were dubious but there's no question about Sinclair's actions following the game.

She showed poor sportsmanship and made deplorable comments about an official that brought disrepute on the match and the game. For that, she deserves punishment. Sinclair is fortunate she was allowed to play the bronze medal game, where Canada defeated France 1-0. A strong case could be made that FIFA should have suspended her immediately, pending the results of an investigation.

This is not a case of free speech, this is a case of sportsmanship. Sinclair is free to say there were questionable calls made but she is not free to state the game was "taken from us," a blunt way of saying the referee was not only incompetent but made a conscious decision to make calls to lead to a Team Canada loss.

This kind of talk would never be allowed at any level of professional or amateur sport, starting from the Rotary Soccer Fields, so why is it OK for Sinclair to mouth off at the Olympic Games?

Sadly, it is a black mark on Sinclair, an amazing talent who scored all three of Canada's goals in that semifinal game.

It is also a black mark on Canadian athletes and supporters who have blindly protested along with Sinclair in the days after the game and now again, with FIFA laying on the suspension.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2012 A10

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