For captaining her team and scoring six goals, Christine Sinclair earned an Olympic bronze medal. For speaking her mind and venting her anger, Canada’s top female soccer player was chastised Friday for “unsporting behaviour” and given a four-game suspension by her sport’s governing body.
Two months after Canada’s heart-crushing, semi-final loss in Olympic soccer, FIFA announced it was disciplining Ms. Sinclair for her criticism of Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen. Ms. Sinclair, whose passion and playmaking in London captivated Canadians, let loose in the wake of a controversial 4-3 overtime loss to the United States, saying it was “a shame in a game like that, that was so important, the ref decided the result before it started.”
FIFA officials chose not to immediately suspend Ms. Sinclair since Canada was to play France for the bronze medal. On Friday, FIFA informed the Canadian Soccer Association that it was not only suspending the 29-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., it was fining her an undisclosed sum, reportedly $3,500.
To help financially, Facebook supporters have established the “Christine Sinclair: movement to help pay FIFA’s fine.”
The decision to punish Ms. Sinclair was supposedly made after an investigation into events during and after the Canada-U.S. match. FIFA did not detail what it investigated and how it came to its decision. The CSA was almost as tight-lipped. In a statement, it said no additional information or media interviews would be done until “those [FIFA] reasons for judgment are received and reviewed.”
Ms. Sinclair did not return phone messages, but her discipline drew raspberries from other athletes.
Former freestyle skier Jennifer Heil went to Twitter to describe Ms. Sinclair’s suspension as “outrageous.” Hayley Wickenheiser, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s hockey, tweeted, “Sinclair suspension is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of! No guts to do it during the games.”
Former Canadian national team goalkeeper Craig Forrest, now a commentator on Sportsnet, noted that since the suspension was for “any tournament, any games,” it amounted to a light sentence.
“I think it’s about right,” Mr. Forrest said of the four-game ban. “At the end of the day, she accused the referee that the result was already fixed, or whatever she said. But the bottom line is they gave her a slap on the wrist. The most important thing is she’s going to be here, fit and ready for 2015 [when Canada hosts the women’s World Cup].”
The women’s soccer team became the story of the London Olympics for Canadian sport fans. Their gutsy play and Ms. Sinclair’s polish as one of the top women’s players in the world made for must-see television. To get to the gold-medal final, the Canadians had to beat the United States, and were leading 3-2, with Ms. Sinclair having scored all the goals, when the situation turned.
With roughly 10 minutes to play in regulation time, the referee, Ms. Pedersen, made a delay-of-game call on goalkeeper Erin McLeod, which ultimately led to the United States tying the match, then winning it in overtime. Afterwards, the Canadians let their frustration bubble over. Forward Melissa Tancredi said she told the referee, “I hope you can sleep tonight and put on your American jersey because that’s who you played for.”
The Canadians regained their composure to beat France and take the Olympic bronze. For her role, Ms. Sinclair was named Canada’s flag-bearer at the closing ceremonies.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail last week, Ms. McLeod insisted she was doing her best to move on because she didn’t want to succumb to bitterness.
“It’s hard to swallow. And yeah, I’ve never seen that call in my entire career,” Ms. McLeod said of her delay of game. “But I had [the ball] more than six seconds and the referees have to make those decisions, and we have to respect them as difficult as that can be, as emotional as that can be sometimes.”
The Canadian women’s team will gather for a December training camp before competing January in the Four Nations Cup in China.
With a report from Paul Attfield in Toronto