Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Football the loser as FIFA hands Henry a reprieve

Thierry Henry controls the ball with his hand during the build up to France's goal in Paris

Thierry Henry escaped punishment yesterday for the blatant handball in last November's World Cup qualification play-off which allowed France to go to South Africa this summer while Republic of Ireland fans cried into their beer.

FIFA decreed there was “no legal foundation” for them to deal with the case.

In other words they bottled it.

Apparently, under current FIFA rules, or so Henry's briefs successfully argued, only the illegal use of a hand to prevent a goal being scored is covered in relation to possible sanctions.

And football wonders why it is riddled with cheating and boasts a reputation for being a sport where winning is not everything but, as Bill Shankly once observed, the only thing.

If ever there was a chance for football's ruling body to make a stand this was it.

You can understand why they were reluctant to bow to the Republic's demands to have the game replayed.

A replay would have set a precedent for all matches where there was a perceived injustice. Any mistake, error, sleight of foot or hand, however small but which possibly might have affected the outcome, might have been pounced upon.

Sport, not just football, is full of characters seeking to profit from unfair advantage. FIFA's disciplinary committee would have had to install revolving doors.

But Henry's offence, when he handled the ball twice before crossing for William Gallas to score, was so blatant and the consequences for the Republic so devastating that it was time to draw a line in the sand.

Time for FIFA to actually invoke Rule One of its own 10 golden rules Fair Play code, which can be found in full if you are interested on FIFA.com. Believe me, it is good for a laugh. Or a weep depending on whether you are Irish or not.

Rule One states: “Winning is without value if victory has been achieved unfairly or dishonestly. Cheating is easy, but brings no pleasure. Playing fair requires courage and character. It is also more satisfying. Fair play always has its reward, even when the game is lost. Playing fair earns respect, while cheating only brings shame. Remember: it is only a game. And games are pointless unless played fairly.”

Just words, you might say. And you would be spot on, because FIFA has shown it does not have the desire, the character and most of all the courage to put its own values into practice.

What should FIFA have done? They should have made an example of Henry.

They should have banned the striker for at least two World Cup matches on a charge of improper conduct, blatant cheating — call it what you like — and sent out a message to the world that football was serious about fair play.

That football no longer was prepared to have its reputation besmirched. That the most popular game on the planet was also one with a moral backbone.

But, no, FIFA decided to hide behind a legal loophole.

It is the coward's way.

And football once more is the loser.

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