Notes from the North

I've spent the past week stewing about Canada's semi-final loss to the US in women's soccer at the London Olympics.

That's why I haven't been writing: every time I sit down to write a sports blog, the memory of that terrible referee's call late in the match that gave the US a free kick just outside the Canadian penalty area comes roaring back and I'm rendered incapable of intelligent thought.

I can't help but feel, deep in my soul, for the entire Canadian team that left it out on the field, that played a talented, experienced, skilled American squad to a virtual standstill. And maybe, in fact, had outplayed them.

Certainly, with moments left in the match, Canada was good for their 3-2 lead, having answered every challenge by their American competition, and done them one better.

And I feel even more for Christine Sinclair, Canada's other worldly striker, who has been in a battle with Amy Wambach, the US' talented striker, for the title of best player in the world and then thoroughly outplayed Wambach in this match.

Sinclair scored three goals in the semifinal, putting Canada ahead each time, showing that she is a deserving candidate for greatest of all time. She played the match of her life, only to watch a referee turn around and take her much-deserved win away from her with a ridiculous call in the dying minutes of the game.

Okay. I said I wouldn't put myself through it all again. Canada went on to win the bronze medal with an incredible extra-time goal to beat a French team that had, in its turn, dominated Canada for much of the match. If Canada can claim that the ref robbed it of a chance at gold, France can certainly claim that it deserved the bronze, but for a couple of unlucky bounces (including a cross-bar and goalpost struck with solid shots).

So it's all good. Canada got a medal. A historic one and well-deserved. They can use the unfairness of that ref's call as a rallying cry for future matches against the US and the world.

 I've been brought back down to earth, this afternoon, by the amazing class displayed by the Canadian 4x100 metre men's relay team. In the race of their lives, the Canadian foursome edged out Trinidad for third behind the amazing Jamaicans and the equally superb Americans, only to have their medal taken away from them due to a lane violation.

In the replays, it was clear that Canada's Jared Connaughton stepped once on the interior lane line as he rounded the curve with the baton. That's a violation that shortened Canada's race by about 10 centimetres. It gave them an advantage and it cost them their medal.

After the race, Connaughton apologised to his teammates for his mistake but acknowledged that it was a violation and that the rule is absolute. Step on the line, get disqualified. The Canadian's acknowledgment of the correctness of the DQ against him was both a heartbreaking, and heartening, moment in Canadian sports.

But it doesn't change my vitriol against the ref's decision in the women's soccer semifinal. Not one bit. While the track rule is clear and consistently applied, the rule that cost Canada the game against the US in soccer is rarely (read "never") applied, so rarely that the announcers calling the game never suspected it and the Canadian goaltender could never have anticipated it.

Certainly, other goaltenders in the tournament held the ball for much longer and were not called for the infraction. The fact that the referee chose the final minutes of a tensely fought, semi-final game to call it for the first time makes the decision even more suspect and even more unfair.


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