Heinrichs not happy with FIFA

Posted: Friday, August 13, 2004

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) The U.S. women's soccer team could lose its best scorer for an important game because of the Olympic tournament's quirky rules, and the coach wants something done about it.

The problem stems from an Olympic format that never seemed even-handed from the start. Simply put, the organizers threw elementary math out the window when drawing up the schedule, leaving the Americans and three other teams caught in the middle.

There are 10 women's teams in the Olympic tournament. The teams could have been split into two equal groups of five. Instead, they are split into three groups one with four teams and the other two with just three teams. The United States happens to be drawn into the group with four teams.

That means the Americans must play three first-round games in just seven days in the stifling heat of a Greek August. The teams in the other groups play just twice over seven days.

To compound matters, the usual tournament rules regarding yellow card fouls remained the same. If a player gets two yellow cards in the first round, she is suspended for the next game.

Sure enough, U.S. forward Abby Wambach received a yellow card in the 49th minute Wednesday against Greece.

Coach April Heinrichs has been tactfully grumbling about the rules since the format was announced, but Wambach's yellow card prompted the coach's strongest words to date. While it's too late to change the size of the groups, Heinrichs publicly called on FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, to change the yellow card rule.

for these Olympics.

''Look at what they've already done by having us be in a group of four, with fatigue, injuries possibilities and also yellow card accumulation. ... All teams in our group that want to advance are at a disadvantage,'' Heinrichs said.

Heinrichs said the U.S. team appealed to FIFA to change the rule Tuesday, before the first games were played. FIFA has been slow to respond.

''So far, it hasn't been discussed,'' FIFA spokesman Alain Leiblang said Thursday from Athens.

Leiblang said the teams have known about the yellow card rule for months, but that no complaint had been made until this week. He said there is a chance the rule could be changed, but he gave no timetable for any such decision.

Why was the uneven format created in the first place? It was the result of that dicey process known as the political compromise.

There were eight women's teams in Sydney four years ago, and FIFA wanted to expand to 12. The International Olympic Committee agreed only to 10.

FIFA accepted 10 then added the quarterfinal round, meaning that eight of the 10 teams would advance past the first round. To fit in all those games, the groups had to be small thus the unbalanced finished product.

''We had to negotiate hard to have 10,'' Leiblang said. ''It's very complicated with 10 teams. That's why we wanted 12.''

Heinrichs was asked if she would tell Wambach to deliberately get a yellow card in the team's second game, Saturday against Brazil, so that the forward would sit out the third group game against Australia instead of the quarterfinal.

Heinrichs' response: ''I'll let FIFA step up and take responsibility for this competitive disadvantage first. That would be a preferable solution.''

And if no change is made? ''We will deal with it.''

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