Spy Games

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It’s open season for spying–or spying allegations–in top flight sports. In the U.S., New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, and his team $250,000, after a staffer was found apparently videotaping signals during the season opener Sunday against the New York Jets. In Formula One, the McLaren team was stripped of points and fined $100 million for possessing technical details about the rival Ferrari team. (McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton avoided having points docked, preserving his hopes of winning the season driver’s trophy as a rookie). And now accusations of spying have emerged following the Chinese soccer team’s victory over Denmark in the first round of the Women’s World Cup on Wednesday. The spying claims in women’s soccer are the least advanced of these cases, and Denmark’s coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller told the AP, “I can assure you there are no accusations whatsoever against China” or Chinese women’s coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors. The story that has emerged so far is bizarre: two men were found with video equipment behind a mirror that looked into a conference room where the Danish team was preparing to hold a pre-match strategy session. Also, men were spotted filming a Danish training session from a nearby building, a team spokeswoman says. (Foreign Policy‘s Passport blog says this shows video espionage is not limited to the Patriots.)

The spy mystery threatens to take some of the shine off a wonderful victory by the Chinese side. I watched from a curbside table outside a grim bar in Beijing’s Sanlitun district. The migrant workers who had just finished their shift on a nearby construction site seemed more interested in watching PG-rated pole dancers at the bar next door. They missed a great game. China was ahead most of the first half, then seemed to lose concentration and allowed Denmark to even the score at 2-2 in the 87th minute. Less than a minute later substitute Song Xiaoli scored from long range, and China held on for the win. Afterward the Danish coaches could be seen arguing with Domanski-Lyfors, and Heiner-Moller refused to shake her hand. A Danish coach was also accused of yelling a profanity at the Chinese side after the game. It’s tough to know what to make of the spy charges, given that FIFA isn’t pursuing an investigation. Domanski-Lyfors, China’s new Swedish coach, told AP, “I don’t know what secrets Denmark would have, because I know the whole team from before; we played them many, many times with Sweden.” Song’s shot is clearly not something that relied on espionage, and it showed the World Cup is plenty exciting without spy games.

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