Canada-U.S. soccer ref defended by father

The father of the Norwegian referee who made controversial calls during the Canada-U.S. match at the Olympic women's soccer semifinal is asking Canadians for understanding.

Christina Pedersen has been focus of criticism, accusations of bias

Canadian forwards Christine Sinclair, left, and Melissa Tancredi react after losing 4-3 in extra time in women's soccer action against the U.S. on Monday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The father of the Norwegian referee who made controversial calls during the Canada-U.S. match at the Olympic women's soccer semifinal is asking Canadians for understanding.

"She don't play with USA flag," Rolf Pedersen, the father of Christina Pedersen, told CBC News. "She's just an objective referee."

Pedersen spoke with his daughter for 10 minutes on Tuesday and said she was extremely "sad" that her calls prompted such an outrage from players and the media. In broken English, he explained that his daughter warned Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod twice for holding the ball beyond the allowable six seconds before whistling her for it.

The international media has been scathing in their criticism of the call — one that is rarely made in soccer —coming as it did with Canada up 3-2 with 12 minutes left in the game.

The resulting free kick within the Canadian penalty area led to a handball call on Canada's Marie-Eve Nault and a subsequent successful penalty kick by the U.S. squad.

The U.S. won 4-3 in extra time, advancing to Thursday's title game against Japan where the team is guaranteed to come away with at least a silver medal. Canada was relegated to the bronze-medal match on Thursday against France.

Soccer's governing body, meanwhile, is considering disciplinary action over blistering comments made by Canada's coach and players following the loss. A spokesman for FIFA told CBC News that no timetable for a decision on potential action has been set.

Rolf Pedersen explained that his daughter told him that she also warned Canadian captain Christine Sinclair that her goalkeeper was hanging onto the ball for more than the allotted six seconds.

Pedersen said his daughter told him that McLeod was holding the ball for up to 11 seconds when Canada was in the lead.

"When the score was 0-0, 1-1, 2-2," he said, "the goalie was much faster."

A family of referees

Pedersen, 31, comes from a family of referees. She referees about 30 to 40 soccer games a year, as well as European handball. Her father said he has been refereeing soccer for 25 years, as does his son. His wife and other daughter referee European handball.

"Ever since she was a little girl, the rules have been very important to her. She don't like this situation," he said, referring to accusations that his daughter was biased and favoured the U.S. team.

"She's completely fair. It's very important for Christina. I know her," he said.

When she isn't refereeing, Pedersen works as a daycare and substitute teacher. She told her dad she would make the same calls again.

"I told her: 'Be proud that you made the right decision, you must be a tough referee,'" he recalled. "It was a tough match. A lot of hard tackles."

He said Olympic protocol prevents his daughter from commenting directly on the situation, but she said she'd return to Norway on Friday. In the meantime, she was going to go for long runs to try to get the controversy out of her mind.

Norwegian soccer great Hallvar Thoresen, now a sports commentator, told Norwegian papers that the initial delay of game call wasn't so bad, but he disagreed with the ensuing handball call which led to the U.S. penalty kick.

"In general, I think she judged very good, but she has the crucial situation with the penalty, which I think is wrong. To give a penalty there must be a degree of wilfulness in the picture," Thoresen told the Oslo-based Dagbladet newspaper.

He said the ball was launched into the hand of Canada's Nault via some other players and that her arm wasn't in an unnatural position.

"It happened so fast, [Nault] could not possibly get away," Thoresen said.