After Japan’s disappointing and unexpected 0-0 draw against South Africa in the women’s Olympic soccer match earlier this week, Nadeshiko Japan coach, Norio Sasaki, has come forward and said they intentionally played for a tie. Withholding many star players, such as Homare Sawa, he specifically instructed the team to play defensively, despite South Africa being considered one of the weakest in the bracket. Despite accusations of betraying the spirit of the Olympics, Coach Sasaki says it wasn’t because he wanted to face a weaker team in the quarterfinals, but to prevent Nadeshiko from having to go through exhaustive travel the day before the next match.
FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, has stated that it will not be seeking disciplinary actions against the coach or team, who were crowned the Women’s World Cup champions last year. It’s not clear what effect it would’ve had if they did move ahead, as FIFA is not a recognized governing body for the Olympics. Sasaki has apologized for not putting forth a more respectable game, but he says it was a different way of playing compared to the team’s normal style. He says that there was no intention to deliberately lose, or try to be paired with a weaker team, something that has caused a scandal in the badminton categories, resulting in eight players being expelled for intentionally throwing their matches.
As a result of the draw with South Africa, Nadeshiko Japan is now scheduled to play against Brazil on Friday. Had they won, Sasaki says they would have had to travel to Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, an eight-hour trip made the day before facing France. Sasaki didn’t want his players to be exhausted before a quarterfinals match. They will now stay in Cardiff, Wales to play at the Millennium Stadium. This hasn’t stopped the criticism about betraying the spirit of the Olympics, and always playing with best efforts, however others have observed that Brazil is the stronger opponent to face over France.