The Eh Game

Omissions of Christine Sinclair, John Herdman from FIFA award shortlists stir outrage

Andrew Bucholtz
Eh Game

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Canadian star Christine Sinclair wasn't included on FIFA's Player of the Year shortlist.

Two of the most impressive women's soccer performances of the year came from Canadian captain Christine Sinclair and Canadian coach John Herdman. Sinclair led the Olympics in scoring with six goals, carried Canada's flag at the closing ceremonies and almost-singlehandedly knocked down the U.S. before controversy intervened, while Herdman turned around a program that was in disastrous shape following a first-round exit at the 2011 Women's World Cup and led it to an incredible Olympic bronze medal. If you go by FIFA's year-end awards, though, not only are Sinclair and Herdman not the top player and coach of the year, they're not even amongst the final three considered.

Unsurprisingly, Sinclair's omission in particular is provoking plenty of outrage in Canada and around the world, and plenty of potential reasons why have been floated. Sportsnet's Gerry Dobson undoubtedly spoke for many Canadian soccer fans when he tweeted "For those suggesting Sinclair's Olympic comments had something to do with her omission, you're wrong. It was the only reason. #blackballed," and Daniel Squizzato of Canadian Soccer News wrote "The exclusion of both Sinclair and Herdman for top honours in 2012 is nothing short of a farce." However, as The Score's Richard Whittall points out, the convoluted and unclear short-list selection process means this snub might be more just about the issues with these awards than FIFA getting Sinclair back for vocal criticism of officials.

Regardless of why Sinclair was left out, what's particularly remarkable is who finished ahead of her on the shortlist. Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan of the U.S. are both understandable choices; both shone in qualifying and in the Olympics, with Wambach picking up five goals and Morgan adding three, and both were crucial to the Americans' gold medal. The inclusion of Brazil's Marta is rather bizarre, though. Yes, Marta's reputation precedes her; she won the women's player of the year award five straight times from 2006-2010, and was a deserving selection most of those years. However, she sure didn't accomplish much in 2012; she was okay in the Swedish league, but flopped on the biggest stage at the Olympics and only scored two international goals all year. Of course, she has the name recognition, and that probably helps, but it's tough to make a case that she accomplished more than Sinclair this season.

Herdman's omission isn't getting quite as much attention, but it may actually be the bigger snub. Take a look at the coaches FIFA is considering: U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, French coach Bruno Bini and Norio Sasaki of Japan. Bini? His French team did okay at the Olympics, but lost the bronze-medal match to Canada. Saskai? Sure, Olympic silver's impressive, but his team won the 2011 Women's World Cup; this was more maintaining that success than really dramatically improving things. Sundhage obviously deserves some consideration considering how her side claimed Olympic gold, but the U.S. has always been a dominant force in international women's soccer; it was their 2011 loss to Japan in the Women's World Cup final that was surprising. The Americans returned to their expected level of performance this year, and while that's impressive, it wouldn't seem to compare with how in just one year, Herdman turned Canada's program from a team that had shown promise but had underachieved on the international stage and didn't even make it through the Women's World Cup group stage into a team that finished third in the world and had a real chance to do even better. With most coaching awards, which usually revolve around the difference a coach has made, he'd be a shoe-in; with this one, he isn't even included amongst the final three candidates.

It's debatable just how much outrage this is really worth, though. FIFA has so little overall credibility as an organization that it's tough to take them seriously as the real arbiter of excellence, and that's particularly clear with these awards, which frequently produce bizarre finalists and winners. Canadian soccer fans are well aware of the magnitude of what Sinclair and Herdman accomplished this year, as are smart soccer observers from around the world. Unfortunately for Canadian fans, it's not the smart observers who compose FIFA's shortlists.

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