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Keep Your Shirt On, Say Soccer Officials
By Michael Lewis


Brandi Chastain celebrates after kicking the game-winning overtime penalty shootout goal against China during the Women's World Cup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on July 10, 1999. (AP Photo/The San Francisco Examiner/Lacy Atkins)


It turned out to be the defining moment of the 1999 Women's World Cup (WWC) and the signature of U.S. defender Brandi Chastain's career.

Chastain had just put her winning penalty kick past Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong at the Rose Bowl. She was so elated that she ripped off her shirt—a common gesture among male soccer players—and celebrated winning the world championship in her sports bra.

If Chastain or anyone else has aspirations of duplicating her memorable moment in this year's WWC, she could be in big trouble.

Goal celebrations that involve the removal of jerseys were banned this summer by the executive committee of FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association), the sport's world governing body. The decision was made to restore "order and discipline" to the game, said FIFA president Sepp Blatter. The order is not aimed at only women players. He pointed to problems that occured at the FIFA Confederations Cup in France after goals.

"There were several awkward situations," Blatter told reporters. "One player needed five minutes to put his jersey back on because his vest was sewn into it."

The penalty would be a yellow card, which would be awarded for unsportsmanlike behavior or delay of game. Two yellow cards are equivalent to a red card, which means automatic ejection from the game.

"The show and the emotions associated with soccer don't depend on a player stripping off his shirt, but far more on the quality of the game," Blatter said.

Could you imagine how ridiculous it would look? A team earning the highest honor possible and the referee giving the player who scored the game-winning goal a yellow card?

Chastain, who will participate in her third WWC, was as diplomatic as possible about the new rule.

"I kind of look at it from both ways," she said. "I understand his desire to keep the game moving."

But on the other hand . . .

"The greatest thing about soccer is the celebration, the spontaneity," Chastain said. "There are no timeouts or huddles, no set plays, so to speak, when the game stops. It's that rhythm that makes the game alive. The celebration goes along with that.

"If I am ever fortunate enough to score a goal during the run of play, I would hope that my spontaneity would be celebrated by Sepp and FIFA. It would not be to injure the game in any way. It is not the lack of sportsmanship. It's really what's beautiful about the game. If it comes down to penalty kicks—which I really hope it doesn't—and if I get that chance (and) the shirt did come off, I would take the yellow card."

Michael Lewis, who writes about soccer for the New York Daily News, covered the 1999 Women's World Cup and the women's Olympic soccer tournaments in 1996 and 2000.