Danish coach accuses Chinese of spying at 2007 Women's World Cup
A bizarre series of incidents during last year's Women's World Cup in China is raising questions about the security of visiting delegations in China at the upcoming Olympics.
In the days before their World Cup opener against host China last September, members of the Danish women's soccer team say they faced ongoing harassment that culminated in the discovery of two men attempting to secretly videotape a team meeting at their hotel through a two-way mirror.
Breaking an 11-month silence about the incidents, Danish coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller told SI.com that he discovered the two intruders behind the mirror as he prepared to hold an important team tactical meeting in a conference room at the Howard Johnson hotel in Wuhan on the day before the game.
"I'm always going in half an hour before [the players arrive] because I have to set up everything," Heiner-Møller said in his first public comments about the affair since the World Cup. "But everything was ready, so I just walked a little bit around this rather large room. I went back to the mirrors and wanted to look just because I was curious, not because I expected to see anything. But I got really shocked because there were two guys staring inside my eyes. They were very still, just sitting and looking back at me. I don't think they thought I could see them.
"I thought that this could be a thriller movie," he continued. "I thought I was alone just checking the mirrors, and somebody's looking back at you? So I was a little bit shocked.
"Then the [Danish] assistant coach came, and I said, 'There are some guys here. Can you go behind and try to get them out?' And he went behind and found the door and knocked, and nothing happened. So we started to look again inside the mirrors and knocked on the mirror and shouted in English, 'Come out, please!'
"Now they started to talk a lot and [use the] telephone and started taking down their cameras because there were two video cameras on the other side of the mirror. But they wouldn't unlock the door."
Danish soccer federation press officer Pia Schou Nielsen says the Danish delegation called the hotel manager, local police and representatives of FIFA, soccer's governing body.
"After half an hour we succeeded in opening the door," Schou Nielsen says of the scene. The two men "were taken to the police station," the press officer says.
By that time, Heiner-Møller says, he had left the door and returned to the conference room to start the team meeting. He decided not to tell his players about the incident until after the game to avoid distracting the team.
But the players sensed a few hours before the game that something was amiss. Instead of holding the pre-game tactical meeting in the conference room, the Danish coaches set out chairs on the hotel floor next to the elevator bank.
"I was thinking, 'What is going on?'" recalls midfielder Anne Dot Eggers Nielsen. "But we didn't ask because of course we didn't know what had happened with the spying."
Yet the hoopla at the HoJo was only the most brazen of several incidents that the Danish team had encountered in the days leading up to their game against China. When the Danes held their first practice session in Wuhan, they noticed that the grass on their training field hadn't been cut.
"Otherwise it was a pretty good stadium," says Eggers Nielsen, who was a seven-year veteran on the team. "But then at every practice there was something wrong."
Eggers Nielsen says the team arrived one day to discover that a meter-wide hole had been dug in the middle of their training field. At another practice the Danes were serenaded by a brass band that made it difficult for the team to communicate. On another occasion the field's sprinklers turned on unexpectedly, halting practice.
But those bits of gamesmanship paled in comparison to the New England Patriots-style videotaping of the Danish team's lone closed practice before the China game.
"There was this guy in a building close to the field with a camera," Eggers Nielsen says. "We saw him in the middle of the training. The [Danish] staff told FIFA officials that he was there, and they got him out of the building. Then later we discovered one more. But they never did anything about him."
"We were working on corner kicks and so forth," recalls Eggers Nielsen, who says she and her teammates stopped their training session and flashed their middle-fingers at the man behind the camera. "They provoked us, and maybe that's what they were trying to do. Did they want us to see them or not? It's difficult to say."
The World Cup game itself between Denmark and China was a memorable affair. In front of more than 50,000 roaring home fans at Wuhan Sports Center Stadium, China scored the first two goals and then watched Denmark tie the game 2-2 in the final minutes before the Chinese hit the game-winner to win 3-2. China's victory ended up making the difference in its qualification for the quarterfinals and Denmark's first-round elimination.
After the game Heiner-Møller refused to shake hands with China coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors. In the postgame press conference Heiner-Møller refused to explain why, adding, "We have made an official complaint to FIFA about things that happened prior to the match."