I’ll try to keep this simple. Let’s start with the basic facts.
Tuesday’s Olympic women’s soccer semifinal between the U.S. and Canada was one of the most dramatic games you’ll ever see. It also had some of the shittiest officiating you’ll see this side of Major League Baseball.
Tuesday’s Olympic individual event finals in women’s gymnastics had some of the most dramatic moments you’ll see in the London Games. It also had some of the shittiest officiating you’ll see this side of Major League Baseball.
It’s just easier to spot a bad call in soccer than it is in gymnastics.
In the soccer match, Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod got called for holding the ball too long. For you Americans who don’t know, in soccer there is a rarely enforced six-second violation for goalies holding on to the ball. This is to prevent to soccer equivalent of the basketball “four-corner offense” which is all about running out the clock. The referee awarded the U.S. a free kick, which the same referee deemed to have been been struck with the hand of a Canadian player. That ruling resulted in a penalty kick, which to U.S. converted into a match-tying goal with about ten minute to go in regulation time. 40 minutes later, the U.S. scored the game-winning goal at the end of extra time.
In the gymnastics, American Aly Raisman’s routine on the balance beam was given an initial score of 14.966, which prompted American coach Bela Karolyi to go apeshit from the stands urging Raisman’s personal coach to file an appeal of the scoring. Mihai Brestyan followed the screams of the Hungarian Yosemite Sam of gymnastics, filed the appeal and voilá, Raisman’s score was elevated to a 15.066, which left her tied for third-place with Romanian Catalina Ponor. And in another bit of scoring gymnastics, while Raisman’s and Ponor’s difficulty scores were identical at 6.300, Raisman’s execution score was higher, which gave her the bronze medal.
So, now that we’ve outlined the basic scenarios, let’s breakdown some cold hard facts which illustrate a crucial point.
Cold Hard Fact #1: Complaining about the officials usually forgets an important point.
This is where I have to point out that if you execute and don’t make a shitload of mistakes, the referees really are limited in taking victory away from you. This whole “bounty-gate” situation with the New Orleans Saints let Minnesota Vikings’ fans have another crack at their bullshit whining about how the officials screwed them in the 2010 NFC Championship game. Naturally, this argument ignores the five turnovers the Vikes committed.
In the case of the Canadians, they may very have a legitimate argument that the referee gave it to them prison-style, and that had that not happened, they would have won 3-2. The trouble is that that also forces the “what if” game to take a turn in the Canadian favor; it forces them to assume that the Americans would not have scored anyway in the last ten minutes of regulation time. While that might normally be a safe assumption, it isn’t in this case because the Canadians gave up far too many scoring opportunities throughout the second half to say with the same level of certainty they have on the “ref dicked us” angle that they Americans would not have scored. In other words, it is equally as possible that what happened at the end of regulation could have just as easily happened at the end of regulation time.
As far as Raisman is concerned, her bronze medal on the balance beam is a direct result of Brestyan convincing the judges that Raisman’s routine had been scored incorrectly. Scoring in gymnastics is completely subjective, so who the hell knows what is correct and what isn’t?
Having said all that, complaining about officiating when done in the wrong way can have a serious boomerang effect. Somebody on the Canadian women’s team crossed the line; you can criticize, but you can’t make allegations that games a re being fixed. Every sports organization takes an exceptionally dim view of such allegations, and FIFA (despite the fact it is an incredibly corrupt organization) is no exception.
Cold Hard Fact #2: Canada and Catalina Ponor likely were legitimately screwed, but it doesn’t matter.
The six-second rule is a bit hackneyed, it’s soccer’s completely subjective, called-at-will rule like holding in the NFL, traveling in the NBA, or an umpire in baseball deciding the batter hit by the pitch didn’t make a sufficient attempt to get out of the way of the ball. The point is it matters little if the rule is rarely enforced; its still a rule. It would be weak to get a speeding ticket for going two miles an hour over the limit, but you were still speeding.
This get a bit tougher to nail down in gymnastics, where the whole thing comes down to what a bunch of judges think. But you know it is entirely possible that the appeal discussion went something like “Uhhh, the Americans are the star power and they bring the TV money, so maybe we’d better give her the medal.”
Cold Hard Fact #3: If you are going to play the “What If?” game in your favor, you have to play it to your detriment as well.
See the earlier reference to the 2010 Minnesota Vikings. To maintain any semblance of legitimacy, you have to be willing when asking “What if the referees hadn’t screwed us?” you must also be willing to ask “What if we didn’t commit those five turnovers?”
This means if you are the Canadian women’s soccer team, you have to ask “What if we didn’t blow three leads in the second half?” This means if you are Aly Raisman, you have to ask yourself “What if I hadn’t made that one stumble on the balance beam?”
Don’t misunderstand the point here. It is the God-given right of every sports fan to bitch about officiating. All I’m saying is with rights come responsibilities, meaning you have to understand that complaining as a fan never changes the result; complaining as a competitor is almost as equally pointless. But having said that, as a fan you must never let anyone tell you can’t scream over the inherent unfairness of sports until your voice-box sues for divorce.
But as a competitor, you also have to remember that you actually have the power to eliminate the argument in the first place; nobody ever bitches about the referees in a 30-point blowout. That’s exactly why blaming the officials is so easy; it means you don’t have to own your piece of the loss.
The Crucial Point: When it comes to sports, Americans are complete hypocrites…and the Canadians are just like them.
Face it, America, there’s really no denying this. The very same people who attacked a Tweep of mine for saying the Americans played cry-baby in the gymnastics scenario are the same ones high-fiving each other over the result of Tuesday’s soccer game. Americans love the “What if?” game when it works for them. If you doubt that, imagine what the headlines Wednesday morning would have looked like if Catalina Ponor were an American?
To be honest, this is the true beauty of sport; it reflects life. Life isn’t fair, and neither are sports. They aren’t supposed to be. Fairness is a fantasy dreamed up by those same assholes who believe everybody should get a trophy for competing. Sports is supposed to teach you important lessons about life, and ironically one of the tools for success in life taught by sports is how to lose graciously.
Canada and Catalina Ponor both got screwed. Granted, the Canadians eventually ended up with the bronze, and Ponor won the silver medal on the floor exercise. They didn’t go home empty handed, but they left with less than they should have. I know, by all rights the glory, the medals, and the trappings should have been theirs, but guess what? It’s called “sports,” not “should haves.” It isn’t fair, but that the way it is. No matter how much hand-wringing you want to do over it, you can’t change it. Trying to make everything fair just takes us that much closer to making Harrison Bergeron a reality.
Through bad officiating, they both lost a medal. Not because the games were fixed, but because officials are human, which means they are going to fuck up; sometimes so horribly and so perfectly timed as to offer the definition of soul-crushing defeat. That’s why the true winners learn how to handle such defeat. After all, the world hates an inglorious winner as much as it does a sore loser.
And there lies the heart of American sports hypocrisy. The same American soccer mom who thinks everybody should be a winner is also the one who screams the loudest when the “fairness” doesn’t go her way. The same Americans who are calling the Canadians “crybabies” are the very same who would have wanted to declare war had the tables been turned.
Ponor handled her defeat with just such grace, you didn’t hear her stomping around making allegation of fraud. Too bad I can’t say the same about the Canadians. For all the sniffing, elitist bullshit I get to listen to out of Canadians about how their frozen, socialist utopia is so much better than their bulging, evil neighbor to the south, I was amazed at how American-like they acted when confronted with the soul-crushing defeat. My amazement ended when a Canadian friend (who we will refer to only as “Gordy”) explained it to me.
According to “Gordy,” the best way to describe Canada is that it is essentially what a bastard child between America and Europe would be. To that end, he says there are only two types of European-descended Canadians; those who are pissed because they wish their country was more like Europe, and those who are pissed because they wish they country was more like America. To me, it doesn’t really matter; they are all Canadians and can feel however they want about their heritage. But no matter what, they can’t bitch about Americans then act just like them just because they lost to them.
At the end of the day, the Canadians shouldn’t be worried about how they lost that soccer game. They should be more concerned about how one Romanian female gymnast took an equally-crushing loss more like a man than their entire nation did.