North Korean Olympic soccer berth angers Australia coach

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Australia women’s soccer coach Tom Sermanni launched a blistering attack on the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency for allowing North Korea to take part in the London Olympics, despite being banned by FIFA from the 2015 Women’s World Cup for steroid use at last year’s tournament in Germany.

Australia missed out on a place at the London Games after finishing third in qualifying last September in China. Japan and North Korea took the two Asian berths, finishing first and second, respectively.

But Sermanni believes North Korea, which had five positive tests for steroids at Germany 2011 in the biggest doping scandal at a major soccer tournament in 17 years, should not be allowed to take part in London and feels Australia should be going instead.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s friendly against world champions Japan in Tokyo, Sermanni said, “It’s no secret that we were very, very disappointed. FIFA we think took the right action to protect the integrity of the World Cup by banning North Korea.

“We were amazed in fact that the World Anti-Doping Agency and the IOC, who apparently take a very strong stance on the use of drugs, decided to take absolutely no action whatsoever and allow North Korea firstly to enter the Olympic qualification and then allow them once they had qualified to participate in the Olympic Games.”

“So when we went to the Olympic qualifiers we felt that, as did China and South Korea, the third position was going to be vital because we felt that even after the Olympic qualifiers that some of those, particularly the IOC, would take action and not allow North Korea to go to the Olympics,” he continued.

“However, they decided against that and not only that, it’s the first and only tournament we have ever taken part in Asia where there was no drug testing. Every tournament that we have participated in, particularly formal tournaments, there was drug testing so not only did they not take any action but they decided it wasn’t worth actually doing some drug testing. To say that we are disappointed is an understatement.”

North Korea officials blamed traditional musk deer gland medicine used after a lightning strike for the positive tests that led to the ban.

Japan coach Norio Sasaki, when asked for his opinion, said, “They (North Korea) have been able to qualify for the Olympics but will not be able to play at the next World Cup. This was decided by officials and that is just the way it is. But they won’t be in qualifying for the next World Cup and so I guess that is good for us.”

Wednesday’s game, the first of a Japan doubleheader with the men’s under-23 side, which plays New Zealand, will be Nadeshiko’s last on home soil before leaving for the London Games via a stop-off in France for another warmup.

Australia lost 1-0 to Japan during Olympic qualifying and Sermanni is hoping his Westfield Matildas will get revenge and spoil Japan’s Olympic farewell party.

“It would be nice. Obviously any time we play an international match, because we don’t play that many, it’s important to try and win,” he said.

“When you are playing against a team of the stature of Japan and how well they have done, particularly in the last year, it would be a fantastic result for us if we could actually get a victory in the game. We will be trying to do that but we know it will be very difficult.”

Sasaki, whose team has been drawn against Canada, Sweden and South Africa in the group phase in London, said he hoped his players would rise to the occasion in front of the home fans.

“Australia is one of the best teams in Asia and also a rival team for us. It’s a very similar team to the ones we will play in the group stage in London,” he said.

“Whatever happens we have to win. We are playing at the National Stadium, there will be a lot of fans and the players will be a little nervous. To win is important because we will be treating this game as though it is the opening game of the Olympics.”