Should Canada Boycott the Bronze Medal Game?

I just met you, this is crazy, but don't you suspend Mel Tancredi. (Stanley Chou/Getty Images)

FIFA has announced that they are launching an investigation into yesterday's travesty between the Canadian women's national team and the United States for bringing the game into disrepute. No, not the referee whose performance belongs in Zürich's long hall of infamy; the criticism post-match by Canadian players including Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi. Speaking on the field of play, before they'd even had a chance to get changed, Sinclair said "we felt the referee took it away from us" and Tancredi said she told referee Christina Petersen to "put on your American jersey."

You'd think that FIFA would be more concerned about refereeing that even the most hysterically partisan American observers agree was terrible than angry athletes who felt cheated speaking harshly in the heat of the moment. But, of course, FIFA got what they wanted (a marquee World Cup rematch between the United States and Japan) and they've always been far more concerned about being in control than being competent.

The Vancouver Province cites the Toronto Sun saying that it is unlikely Sinclair will be punished. That's something, anyway (sorry, I can't find the original Sun article online). But the possibility the Canadians will be screwed further has raised hackles among the country's soccer hardcore. Former Canadian international Gregor Young said on Twitter he'd start a fund to pay the fines of any punished Canadians and that has received strong support. And if the Canadians are suspended?

Well, some of the hard-core Canadian supporters are saying that enough is enough. They're calling for a boycott of the bronze medal match against France on Thursday if Canadian players are suspended for telling the truth. It's a controversial idea, and a virtual certainty to never happen after the CSA said in a conference call they weren't going to challenge yesterday's debacle. But it would also be a chance for Canada to stand up to the bullies on the world's biggest stage.

Edit, 5:54 AM August 8: Jeff Blair of the Toronto Star reports via Twitter there will be no supplementary discipline to Canadians prior to the bronze medal match.

Would the wide Canadian public, most of whom have no interest in women's soccer, get behind a boycott? I was initially worried about that, in a world where medal count means everything, but I'm starting to come around. Back in the 1987 World Junior Hockey Championships, the IIHF's politically-motivated reaction to the famous Punch-Up in Piestany (an incident caused by another Norwegian referee, would you believe) drew an indignant response from Canadian hockey that was largely supported by the country. That was a far more ambiguous situation than this, as the Canadians were involved in a bench-clearing brawl but victimized by backroom politicians trying to improve their own podium position, in a far more obscure tournament, but the public still came down in the Canadian Hockey Association's corner.

More recently, after Jamie Salé and David Pelletier were robbed of a gold medal in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics Skate Canada went straight on the offensive. The result was a sea change in the world of ice skating judging and co-gold medals for Salé and Pelletier; justice was more-or-less served. Skate Canada were by no means demure Canadians who didn't want to rock the boat, but they got both results and public support.

Still, it's one thing to protest like avenging archangels after the tournament is done and another thing to boycott when there's still a bronze medal to pay for. Moreover, FIFA is not the International Skating Union. The ISU is a big fish in a little pond and Canada is one of their most important members; FIFA is literally above the law in most of the world and has no reason to worry about screwing a few Canucks. The one stick Canada could wave would be hosting the 2015 Women's World Cup, which Canada got by default after the only other bidder (Zimbabwe, of all places) pulled out.

What would the grounds for a boycott be? Would anything be needed besides "this is bullshit?" If you like, referee Petersen clearly misapplied the Laws of the Game on multiple occasions[1] but that's not even close to being the point.

Just to spell it out one more time, the calls for a boycott are mostly coming in the form of "if Canada has a player, players, or coach John Herdman suspended for criticizing the refereeing". There is little talk of boycotting purely because of Petersen's incompetence: only if FIFA is determined to support such shambolic officiating by banning discussion of it by national team players.

I don't know what a boycott could accomplish beyond being a moral gesture. Then again, sometimes it's better to make a moral gesture than just lying back and taking it. If FIFA could be reformed by being polite and waiting for someone to ask for our opinion then it would never have needed reform in the first place.

What I do know is such a boycott could never happen. The ladies are starving for a bronze medal, if nothing else; even that would beat pre-tournament expectations. And I doubt the Canadian Soccer Association would have their players' corner if a boycott did happen.

But just because it won't doesn't mean it necessarily shouldn't.

[1] - Note for the slow: I'm not referring to the six-second rule which was against the spirit but not the letter of the Laws of the Game. Rather, I have in mind mistakes like awarding a penalty without Marie-Eve Nault handling the ball deliberately as required by Law 12, or numerous infractions in things like spotting who's supposed to get a corner kick or a throw-in.

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