GORDON WHITE: Looking for Role Models?: In Soccer, They Play In-State
There have been enough blunders and possibly even crimes in the world of soccer in recent days to make a dedicated soccer mom trade in her SUV.
Only in the United States is this wonderful sport referred to as soccer while the rest of the world calls it football. But whether it is soccer or international football, the sport has produced serious acts of stupidity by some American women players, horrible officiating in a World Cup preliminary match between Ireland and France and the arrest of many people in Europe, including players and referees, who are suspected of fixing a series of European matches for some time.
There was nothing ladylike about the behavior of Elizabeth Lambert, a University of New Mexico junior soccer player. She punched one Brigham Young University opponent, elbowed some others and finally got behind one BYU player and yanked her to the ground by grabbing her ponytail and pulling hard.
These deplorable acts were caught on film during the Mountain West Conference women's soccer tournament semifinal match won by Brigham Young, 1-0, Nov. 5. Within hours Lambert became notorious for reasons she wished never happened as her misconduct was televised around the world.
The University of New Mexico wasted no time in disciplining the "meanest woman in soccer" when it suspended her from the team indefinitely the very next day.
Lambert's rather lame excuse and attempt to apologize was, "I let my emotions get the best of me in a heated situation. That was not me out there."
Well, it wasn't the Wicked Witch of the West, Ms. Lambert.
Nine high school female soccer players in Rhode Island were suspended for their part in a fight between the teams from Woonsocket and Tolman high schools, Nov. 8. This battle on the field resulted in a brawl that spread into the bleachers as spectators took up the fight. The Rhode Island Interscholastic League handed out the penalties to the girls, some of whom were suspended for as little as two games and others for as much as one year.
TV news cameras also caught this brawl that began when two opposing players collided and the girls started punching each other.
Across the Atlantic Ocean where this sport has been taken very seriously for ages and where jingoism always adds fuel to the fire of enthusiastic fans and players, crimes have probably been committed that tear at the heart of Europe's favorite pastime.
European police, led by German authorities, last week arrested 17 people (15 in Germany and two in Switzerland) as leaders in a huge gambling ring that, according to these authorities, fixed or attempted to influence the results of more than 200 soccer (football) games throughout Europe.
The German chief of police said this month's arrests were "only the tip of the iceberg."
But it was made clear that most of the matches under investigation involved second and third tier leagues and clubs. German authorities said the premier leagues of England, Spain, Italy and France were not involved. Players earn $5 million and up in those leagues and, according to police, are immune to bribery because of those high salaries.
Last but hardly least on this list of unfortunate, recent mishaps in football was a referee's terrible mistake that cost Ireland any chance to reach the 32-team World Cup championship finals in South Africa next year. The Irish national team met the French team in a two-game, home-and-home series to determine which one of these two nations would make it to South Africa. Total goals for the two games determined the winner. France won the first game on its soil, 1-0.
Then in Ireland, Nov. 18, the home team led, 1-0, at the end of regulation. Thus tied in goals for the two games, the teams went into overtime. During a French onslaught of the Irish goal, Thierry Henry had a hand ball that dropped the ball at his feet. He kicked it over to his teammate, William Gallas, who was about two yards in front of the Irish net. Gallas easily tapped the ball into the Irish goal for a 1-1 tie in that match and a 2-1 French victory in aggregate score.
Referee Martin Hansson, of Sweden, who is a fireman by trade, missed the hand ball by Henry, allowed the goal and France advanced to the World Cup finals for 2010. Just like the women's dirty tricks and fights in the United States soccer matches, this hand ball directly in front of the Irish goal was televised worldwide. Nevertheless, FIFA, the international governing body of the sport, refused an appeal for a rematch requested by the Football Association of Ireland.
FIFA, which is the acronym for Federation Internationale de Football Associations, has called an emergency meeting for Dec. 2 in Cape Town, South Africa to address such matters as the Irish-French referee gaffe and the huge match-fixing scandal that involves players, referees, administrators and coaches. Other serious problems FIFA must deal with include an incident against Algerian football players in Egypt and a questionable action by the Argentine coach.
FIFA oversees 208 national football associations and has faced gambling, match-fixing scandals aplenty in recent years. The biggest was an Italian affair that led to years of investigations and trials. Another German match-fixing scandal in 2004 led to a 30-month prison sentence for Robert Hoyzer, a referee.
Huge amounts of money are bet by individuals and large syndicates at the thousands of legal betting houses from the British Isles to Eastern European nations. Why would anyone bet on international football after all of these fixing scandals in recent years? Of course, the ones who fix the matches do their nefarious deeds so they can bet on a sure winner.
European and South American football has long been plagued by rioting fans whose nationalism is too often fired up by the heat of alcohol. Some of these battles have resulted in serious injury and even deaths.
Fortunately, we live in the Carolina Sandhills, where soccer thrives with considerable success unblemished by gambling scandals, hair pulling and rioting.
The Pinecrest High School men's team had another fine season in 2009 when it advanced deep into the state championship tournament once again. Even the past battle over whether or not to keep the coach has not marred years of excellent soccer for both the men's and women's programs at Pinecrest HS.
Also, the state of North Carolina has done itself proud in intercollegiate soccer once again as North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest reached today's third round of the NCAA men's tournament. But at best, only two of these teams will make it to the next round because Duke and Wake Forest meet today at the Deacons' field. North Carolina will host another perennial NCAA power, Indiana University, at Chapel Hill today.
However, University of North Carolina women have achieved more success in the past decade than any other intercollegiate soccer program in the nation. Tar Heel women won four NCAA championships and nine ACC titles, 2000-2009, and they have reached the semifinal round of this year's NCAA tournament in hopes of making it five national titles in 10 years.
As a result, during these troubled times in soccer, Sandhills youngsters taking up the game need look no further than here in their own state to find their role models in the sport.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is email@example.com.
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