When the news came down Tuesday that FIFA was investigating "incidents that occurred after the conclusion" of Monday's spectacular Canada-U.S. women's soccer match, the potential consequences seemed dire for the Canadians. It hasn't been made clear exactly what FIFA's looking into, but the smart money is that world soccer's governing body wasn't happy with the post-match comments blasting the officiating from head coach John Herdman and players like Christine Sinclair, and there was a chance that they could have handed out suspensions that could have caused Herdman and/or some of his key players to miss Thursday's bronze-medal clash against France (8 a.m. Eastern, CTV and RDS). On that front, the news that FIFA is going to hold off on any penalties until after the bronze-medal match is tremendously positive for Canada. It could lead to sanctions that are more significant in terms of matches missed, but the Canadians don't have another world-level tournament for three years (the 2015 Women's World Cup, which they're already qualified for as hosts), so if FIFA does eventually hand down penalties, they're unlikely to have a massive impact on the Canadian team's ability to compete in a worldwide tournament.
This is uncharacteristically smart on the part of FIFA. The controversy over Monday's match has spiralled into national outrage in Canada (well, except for professional contrarians who didn't actually watch most of the game), and sanctions that would have hurt the Canadians' ability to compete for bronze Wednesday would have further intensified complaints about a fix and about FIFA. Of course, Canadians' views about FIFA don't really matter much to the organization; even though they're holding a major tournament in Canada in just three years, fans are still going to come to that regardless of how much they hate the world soccer governing body.
Still, by "continuing their investigation" until after the bronze-medal match, FIFA can hand down whatever punishment they want to give out for questioning officiating with much less popular and media outrage, as the eventual suspensions will likely be for games that mean very little for Canada. It also reduces the discussion about controversy in the bronze-medal match itself, which would have provoked its own tidal wave of outrage against FIFA if Canada had lost without Herdman and Sinclair. The officiating controversy from Monday is still going to be mentioned in the lead-up to Thursday's game, but there will be plenty of focus on the match itself, which easily could have been overshadowed by suspensions. By waiting a few days, FIFA gets to deliver severe-looking sanctions that won't tick an entire nation off. (It should also be mentioned that this decision may be related to the Canadian Soccer Association's smart call not to officially protest Monday's match or officiating; if they'd done so, FIFA likely would have smacked them down with a hammer, but their silence on that front allows this to be seen as passionate comments from a coach and a few players, not an entire national body rebelling against FIFA.)
There's still a significant debate about if FIFA should do anything here. A suspension of Herdman wouldn't be unprecedented, as other managers/coaches have faced severe penalties for criticizing officiating; funnily enough given that Monday's controversial clash was played at Manchester's Old Trafford stadium, one of the most notable cases is that of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who was banned from the sidelines for five matches after blasting refs last year. However, with Ferguson, that was part of a long pattern of behaviour; Herdman hasn't really been terribly critical of officiating in the past. Moreover, a suspension of players like Sinclair would be more unusual; it's quite rare to see players banned for comments about officials, even if hers were far more direct and insulting than most, and it's worth keeping in mind that these comments came only moments after a heartbreaking defeat, so there was a lot of emotion involved. Some would argue that players and coaches shouldn't face suspensions for speaking their mind in the heat of passion, and they have a point. Regardless, though, there won't be suspensions that will impact Thursday's bronze-medal match, and that's a victory for Canada.
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