I would argue that FIFA should have hired the best referees, period. Simply put, these were not the 22 best referees in the world, by a long shot.
Between this, and the turf, the tournament has undoubtedly been ruined. Great, I don't have to face the consequences of my Hot Take! tweet after Abby's goal against Nigeria.
It's worth taking a little time to explain why Markgraf's wrong. Referees aren't chosen based on "merit" in the real World Cup, either.
Kidding! I'm kidding! It's just that nobody says "Men's World Cup," for some reason.
But there is, if I may use an insanely loaded and unwarranted term, affirmative action for referees outside UEFA and CONMEBOL. Even Americans, God help us, are given the chance to referee games against real teams. Esse Baharmast probably wouldn't have been chosen as one of the 22 best referees in the world, but he was on that day in 1998. (At least one American did well in the World Cup that year.)
And yes, this same policy could have killed our chances in 2010, thanks to Koman Coulibaly. But we won the group in South Africa anyway. The only one hurt was Maurice Edu, who could have been a World Cup legend.
Um, okay, that's a big deal.
I'm well aware I'm traipsing into an ethical minefield here. But just like it was, in fact, a good idea to expand the Women's World Cup field, it's a good idea to bring referees from a wider pool. Yes, the referees, like the teams, don't have the experience. Where are they going to get the experience, then?
Again, it's very easy and tempting to apply this concept to real world, bread and butter issues that affect people every day. I'm trying to shove this all into a snowglobe. IF you accept the concept that (PLEASE forgive me using this loaded term) diversity should be the overriding factor in initial World Cup referee assignments, then it doesn't make sense to stop at geography. We have teams that aren't "qualified" to be in the World Cup, as well as refs that aren't "qualified." Down the road, however, it will make for a better tournament.
Markgraf's lament that Ivory Coast - sorry, Cote d'Ivoire and New Zealand have suffered for this experiment is noted. And ignored, since neither team would be here if a similar concept had been applied to the World Cup field. Them, as they say, is the breaks.
For those of us who don't like idealism creeping into our sports, then perhaps a dose of realism will help. These policies didn't come out of the goodness of Jules Rimet's heart. Shouts of referee bias are not quite as old as the game, because the referee was a later addition to the Laws...but shouts of referee bias are as old as the World Cup. The 1966 final was decided by a Swiss referee seeing George Hurst's shot go over the line - but earlier in the tournament, an English referee sent off two Uruguayans against West Germany, while a German referee sent off Antonio Rattin against England. South America was highly unamused, and geography has been the prime determination of World Cup referees ever since.
Lesson being, referees are judged by nationality as much as by quality...and that's assuming a consensus on referee quality is even possible. There are worse crimes on earth than having women referee a women's tournament.
My solution? It's one I've been ponderous about before - more referees. Our games are run by fewer sets of eyes than any major sport except basketball, which has less than half the players on 7,000 square meters less space. The offside rule also requires eye stalks to correctly officiate. It's a ridiculous job for three people.
I know the women's game is probably a little leery about experimenting at this point - doesn't look like the whole artificial turf thing has been a roaring success, for example - but somebody should try running games with more referees, and see if that helps. Looking at you, USL.
That way you'll also have extra notebooks, in case Clint Dempsey rips one up.
...hey, wait one darn minute. How does Kate Markgraf know who the best 22 referees in the world are, anyway? Does she keep a running list?
I still have no idea who's going to win the World Cup - although I hope it's on a crappy call, just so Markgraf can complain. (Or, it said bad call favors the US, not complain.) But I'd like to note a couple of things before the games start counting.
The bracket was a freaking GIFT to the USWNT. They are perfectly capable of losing to Colombia, or China, or even Cameroon, if they put their minds to it. And I'm still convinced that a misplaced confidence in Abby Wambach makes that more, not less, likely. Yes, we'd have been better off tying Nigeria, and forcing changes, than winning while fostering our false sense of security.
But, if there's no one capable of punishing that false sense of security, then why change? They will face at most only two of Germany, England, France, Japan or Brazil - and maybe none of them. Maybe the road to glory will be paved with Pia's toothless Sweden and the cringe-inducing hosts. They don't put asterisks on World Cups for strength of schedule, so it's a very worrying possibility that Greatness will be Found. Let's keep hope alive, though.
I forget the other thing.
Just kidding. Germany and Sweden kind of looks like a lemon at this point, but you wouldn't have thought so going into the tournament...and you really wouldn't have in 2003, when these two met in the final. It was the funeral games for the WUSA - and, in retrospect, China, which has never been the same since the SARS epidemic forced relocation of the tournament. (Although they might not have replaced Sun Wen anyway.) But once you got over the enormous, league killing-disappointment of the USA's absence, the Final itself was a masterpiece. Sweden's Hanna Ljungberg played a marvelous game, but Sweden were eventually worn down by an amazing Germany team, with Meinert and Prinz at their peak. So was Nia Kuenzer, whose golden goal was legendary. Kuenzer's cruciate ligaments pretty much fell to pieces afterward, keeping her from true legend status. The final game rates one sentence on Wikipedia, by the way.
There's no earthly way the rematch will be anything like the game 12 years ago, but again, we can hope. If not, there's always the China-Cameroon game!