Fair Play and Sportsmanship in Women’s Soccer: A look into the CAN vs. USA 2012 Olympic game.

It was 3-2 for Canada. Erin McLeod had just made another amazing save and was sending the ball down the field when…*TWEET* the whistle is blown. To everyone’s surprise, referee Christina Pedersen makes the unexpected call to give McLeod a foul for violating the “six-second” rule. A free kick is taken, a handball is called against a Canadian player and it’s all down hill from there.

The issue with both of Pedersen’s calls wasn’t that they weren’t correct, there is a rule against how long a goalie can hold the ball (though it is rarely enforced especially in such a high-profile event) and the ball did hit the arm of Marie-Eve Nault (though it wasn’t intentional). The issue was that neither call could be considered apart of fair play. There are rules to the game and there are rules to fair play, and the calls that Pedersen made in that semifinal Olympic game did not qualify as following the rules to fair play.

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The reason for why Pedersen made these calls isn’t fully known but there have been many theories that have circulated. In an interview done by Dan Wetzel with American Olympic soccer player Abby Wambach, she admitted to counting out loud beside Pedersen whenever McLeod had the ball. Obviously Wambach’s tactic to get inside the referee’s head by continuously counting and intimidating her worked. In Robert Butcher and Angela Schiender’s article “Fair Play as Respect for the Game” they touch on intimidation. “…recount the case of a football couch who used to send dead flowers… to his team’s opponents and another case of tennis players coughing during the opponent’s serve…Both examples seem somewhat pathetic, and as well as inappropriate. The respect for the game model of fairness can be used to support this feeling. Do these practices enhance the playing of the game? Do they make for better sport?… Quite obviously not, so on the ground of fair play, they should be avoided.” Wamback’s actions were unnecessary and childish and overall ruined that game.

In this situation, Womback did not act with any sportsmanship. James W. Keating author of “Sportsmanship as a Moral Category” even understands that being a good sportman can be difficult but is still necessary.A quote from his article shows that “to ask him to act with fairness in the contest, with modesty in victory, and an admirable composure in defeat is to demand a great deal, and, yet, this is the substance of the demand that “sportsmanship” makes upon the athlete.” Keating continues on to say that the goal for any athlete is honourable victory and that nothing should be done before, during or after the game to cheapen that victory. Though the referee wasn’t one of the players in that Olympic game, she was still apart of upholding the right to a fair and honest victory.

Afterwards, Canadian player Christine Sinclair described her feelings about the game as being cheated. Their game, their win was taken away from them so unfairly. Even the penalty kick resulting from Nault’s handball was an unfair call. Couch John Herdman expressed his shock when discussing that penalty, thatwith a ball moving that quick, Nault wouldn’t have time to respond and that the ball hitting her arm was obviously not intentional, yet Pedersen called it anyways.

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For years women weren’t taken seriously in the world of sports. Many stereotypes are still present due to social constructs we have made about females and femininity, such as women are weaker, slower and less aggressive then men are. Women competing in elite sports are a relatively new occurrence in our society. It wasn’t till 1900 that women were allowed to compete in the Olympics. Recently though, the view on women’s sports and their quality has improved dramatically! But then a game like this one takes place, where we see poor sportsmanship and inappropriate calls that take away from the quality of play these female athletes have.

It is a universal thought about this game that Pedersen was way over her head. Sine 2007, Pedersen has been a referee but after this Olympic game, criticism about her competence arouse. Her name was notably absence when deciding who would be the referee for the gold and silver games after Canada vs. USA semifinals. Even recently, the release of potential candidates to referee the 2015 Olympic games came out, and Pedersen was not one of them.

I had once been in a similar (yet highly insignificant compared to an Olympic game) situation as the Canadian team when playing house league soccer. My teammate fired off a corner kick straight to me and after yelling out “MY BALL” I was about to make the winning score. Then the unexpected whistle of the referee blew. Ever player on the field and our families on the sideline didn’t understand what I had done to receive a penalty. It turns out that yelling “my ball” could confuse the other team and was ultimately illegal in the rules and resulted in the opposing team gaining a free kick. Never before in my years of playing the game had I ever been penalized for calling that out. Especially in house league where majority of players are far from competitive athletes and the couches and referees that are involved are all volunteers.

Some may argue that calls like these ones that were made in both that Olympic game and my situation followed the rules of soccer. In that case, Pedersen would be in the right and shouldn’t get criticized for her decisions made. As someone who has competed in soccer  in the past though, I can’t help arguing that it is unfair calls like these ones that ruin the game for not only the players, but also the audience watching. A call like the one Pedersen made confused the players and audience and turned and exciting game in to something uninspiring. This example just goes to show how fair play and sportsmanship really are important when competing in sports.

Additional Reading

“Fair Play as Respect for the Game,” by Butcher, Robert; Schneider, Angela Journal of the Philosophy of Sport;1998, Vol. 25 Issue 1

Sportsmanship as a Moral Category, by  James W. Keating, Ethics, Vol. 75, No. 1 (Oct., 1964), pp. 25-35, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2379145



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