From your lips to God’s ear department: Mere hours after filing my “Editor’s Desk” column last week, in which I looked forward to watching the Canadian women battle for Olympic soccer gold at 7 p.m. Pacific time on Thursday, an announcement came that the game would be starting at 5 a.m. west coast time on Friday instead.
The original start time would have been at 11 a.m. in Tokyo, when temperatures would be in the high 30s; add in the humidity, and it feel like the low 40s. Once the finalists were determined, the players on both the Canadian and Swedish teams united in asking for the game to be postponed to later in the day, to allow for (slightly) cooler temperatures.
It’s worth noting that neither of those teams were American. Why is that relevant, you ask? Because of the NBC-TV network, which has thrown rather a lot of money at the International Olympic Committee for broadcast rights, and had assumed that the American team would be one of the finalists. They had therefore asked that the gold medal match be played at a time that was conducive to American viewers, regardless of what that would mean for the players out there running two to three miles in conditions that would make a sauna seem like a refreshing alternative.
Once the Americans were no longer a factor in the finals, placating a major rights-holder was no longer a factor, and less than 72 hours before the match the start time was shifted. Better late than never, I suppose, although it’s not as if the hot, humid weather was a surprise to anyone: the last time the Summer Olympics were held in Tokyo, in 1964, the Games were staged in October instead of the traditional July/August, because of the heat.
(Also, there was some predictable sneering about female soccer players not being able to stand the heat. I’ll simply note that the 2022 World Cup is being held in Qatar, which gets similarly hot in July and August, when the World Cup is traditionally held. After howls of protest from players — all of them male — the tournament was switched to December.)
Thus it was that even though I do not function well in morning hours that are still in low single digits, I hauled myself out of bed just before 5 a.m. last Friday and watched the match from the edge of my seat. By the time it went to penalty kicks, after both sides were stalemated at 1–1 following regulation and extra time, I was having flashbacks to the men’s ice hockey gold medal game in Vancouver in 2010.
Victory — when it came from the toe of 20-year-old Julia Grosso of Vancouver, who was the picture of cool and composed, whatever she was feeling at the moment — was even sweeter in 2021 than it had been in 2010, and as tears of joy ran down my face I searched for Christine Sinclair, Captain Fantastic herself, the rock of Team Canada for two decades. That she is the greatest female soccer player of all time, and one of the all-time greats in the sport (full stop), is in no doubt. The stats speak for themselves: 187 goals in 304 international appearances, more than any other player (male or female) in history. That’s .61 goals per match in a notoriously low-scoring sport. An NHL player who managed that in an 82-game season would be on 50 goals, and revising his next salary demand upward.
Sinclair won’t be doing that, as there is no money to be made in women’s soccer. Instead, I suspect she will simply continue to be a true role model, on and off the pitch, as will the rest of the team. Of the 22 players in Tokyo, 14 are under the age of 24, so the team will have plenty of time to get used to winning, and we’ll probably see a lot of them in Paris in three years’ time. Will Sinclair be among them? Who knows? They’ll definitely be worth watching, whatever time of day (or night) that happens to be.