Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Canada soccer and wikileaks: What does the cable really say?

Canadian soccer stories have a hard time making it into the news. (Don't confuse these with Toronto FC stories, which are all over the news lately).

So you can forgive the newspaper reporter's near gleeful introduction to an article detailing Canada's inclusion in one of the Wikileaks cables:

Canada’s men’s soccer team doesn’t stand very high in the world rankings, but it has accomplished something few of its top-rated opponents can match.

It got a mention from Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks.

While most of soccer’s elite have to be satisfied with getting their notoriety in the sports pages, Canada’s 84th-ranked team appears in WikiLeaks documents reported Monday in Europe.

The MNT shout-out came as part of a memo detailing corruption in Bulgarian soccer. Specifically, the memo mentions Bulgarian referee Anton Genov being investigated following Canada's 3-0 friendly loss to Macedonia during which he awarded 4 penalties.

Really? This is what diplomatic staffs write about? It is of material interest to the US State Department to be kept in the loop on this sort of stuff? It is the kind of prose that would make wikipedia blush:
Bulgaria is soccer country. It has long been the
most popular sport, and despite scandals and the migration of
many of its talented players to wealthier European clubs
abroad, it is still a Bulgarian passion. The pinnacle of
Bulgarian soccer was the 1994 World Cup, when Bulgaria
defeated Germany to advance to the semi-finals, eventually
finishing fourth overall. To this day, many Bulgarians only
half jokingly refer to this as the country's greatest
accomplishment since the fall of communism.
If you're hoping for a lot of juicy details about the Canada match in question, though, you're out of luck. All it mentions is the UEFA investigation into Genov which most well-informed Canadian fans already knew about. Paragraph 6 of the cable explains illogical results and match fixing, concluding with the following:

The Union of European Football
Association (UEFA), the governing body of European soccer,
also is investigating Bulgarian referee Anton Genov for his
alleged involvement in fixing an international match.
According to the UEFA, there were obvious irregular betting
patterns prior to the international friendly match on
November 14, 2009 in which Genov awarded four penalty shots
during Macedonia's 3-0 victory over Canada.

For those of us who watched the match it is fairly unsurprising to learn there was some shady business at play. What is surprising is Stephen Hart's quoted reaction in the Star article referenced above:

“I’d never been in a game with four penalties, but (Genov) called a very, very tight game right from the start,” Hart said Monday from Halifax. “Any little contact was blown. Other than that, I was surprised because nothing seemed odd to me.”

“I thought all the penalties were penalties from my view on the sideline.”

It's hard to understand who Hart is trying to cover for with his remarks, but Zelkovich hints at it with his closing statement:
While Hart said he was surprised by the number of penalty kicks awarded in the loss to Macedonia, he didn’t mention another irregularity: the fact that Canada missed both.
Will Messrs. Hume and Jackson be making an appearance in the next round of wikileaks?

Despite the unsavouriness of the story, it counts as ink for the Canadian national team, and is likely more than will be spilled when Canada next plays an actual match (vs Greece in February unless a January friendly is scheduled soon), so I suppose we should be making the most of it.

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