The Olympics are over for Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen, who was at the centre of the American women's soccer team's controversial 4-3 win over Canada in the semifinals Monday. World soccer governing body FIFA announced their officials for Thursday's bronze- (8 a.m. Eastern) and gold-medal (2:45 p.m. Eastern) matches Wednesday, and Pedersen's name was notably absent. FIFA has maintained that this is not a suspension of Pedersen, and that's accurate; officials are traditionally selected for finals based on their officiating performances in the tournament, and there's been heavy criticism of Pedersen's work in the semis from Canadians, Americans and neutrals, so it would be hard to argue that she was one of the best officials in this tournament. However, even if Pedersen had qualified based on her officiating performance, FIFA would still have been smart to keep her out of the spotlight. Her involvement would have shifted the focus from the on-pitch action to the previous round's controversy, and that's not a desirable outcome for FIFA.
On merit alone, Pedersen doesn't deserve to work either of the final matches. Yes, she's been an international referee since 2007 and has worked at the highest levels, but her performance Monday was terrible from just about every standpoint. Canadians are ticked at her for the extremely rare delay-of-game call she made against keeper Erin McLeod, (one where the most recent similar call SI's Grant Wahl could find came in an English Premier League game in 2002), while Americans are outraged she missed Melissa Tancredi apparently stomping on Carli Lloyd's head. Pedersen's even heard it from neutrals; here's what British newspaper The Guardian's Scott Murray, who declared Monday's clash "the greatest knockout match in major-tournament football since 1982," had to say about Pedersen's refereeing:
A wee bit can be attributed to the Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen, who spent the last few minutes of normal time juggling custard pies while furiously pedalling a miniature trike with square wheels, an act she's clearly lifted wholesale from popular working men's club entertainer Howard Webb.
With Canada leading 3-2, and Pedersen repeatedly honking her horn, the referee paused her comedic parping to penalise Canadian keeper Erin McLeod for holding on to the ball for 6.00000000000000001 seconds. Given that nobody in any form of professional football has been pulled up for this since the days crossbars were made out of tape, balls were made out of solid varnished teak, and women players were kept locked in the FA's basement while the menfolk grappled with each other and their own inadequacies, this was a peculiarly harsh decision.
The main people still in Pedersen's corner (by the way, as per the Christina/Christiana debate, media outlets have used both, but we're going with this Norwegian football site profile's use of Christina) appear to be her family. CBC News tracked down her father, Rolf, and asked him for comment on the situation. Here's what he had to say:
"She don't play with USA flag. ...She's just an objective referee. ... Ever since she was a little girl, the rules have been very important to her. She don't like this situation," he said, referring to accusations that his daughter was biased and favoured the U.S. team. ... She's completely fair. It's very important for Christina. I know her."
Regardless of one's thoughts on Christina Pedersen and the job she did Monday (one of many questionable officiating performances at these Olympics), it's a smart move by FIFA to keep her away from the final matches. This controversy's already consumed a huge amount of popular attention, and putting Pedersen back in the spotlight would not have helped one bit. It's the second intelligent, controversy-minimizing move from FIFA Wednesday (following the news that they wouldn't complete their investigation into Canadians' post-match comments until after the bronze-medal game), and that has to be some kind of record. Still, even the worst organizations get things right from time to time, and FIFA looks to have made a smart move here. Pedersen's absence from the final Olympic games won't make the controversy go away, but it won't add further fuel to the fire.