Belfast Telegraph

Fifa blasted over FAI payment to stop legal action

By Tom Peck

It was an incident that will forever tarnish the reputation of Thierry Henry, but we now know it was worth €5m (£3.65 million) to the victims. Henry's flagrant handball in the Stade de France, which set up the goal that cost the Republic of Ireland a place at the 2010 World Cup, was the subject of a €5m payment from Fifa to the Football Association of Ireland to prevent the FAI from pursuing legal action, its chief executive John Delaney has confirmed.

The payment was long suspected, after it was revealed by the Republic's tabloid press last year, but Delaney has always been circumspect on the matter.

"We felt we had a legal case against Fifa because of how the World Cup play-off hadn't worked out for us with the Henry handball," Delaney said. "Also the way (president Sepp) Blatter behaved, if you remember on stage, having a snigger and having a laugh at us. That day when I went in, and I told him how I felt about him, there were some expletives used and we came to an agreement.

"That was a Thursday and on Monday the agreement was all signed and all done. It's a very good agreement for the FAI and a very legitimate agreement for the FAI, but I'm bound by confidentiality for naming the figure."

When the €5m figure was put to him, he replied: "I'm bound by a confidentiality agreement from naming the figure, but you've put a figure out there and fair play to you."

The incident in November 2009 which clinched a 2-1 aggregate win for France caused huge outrage among Republic of Ireland fans, and it also prompted Henry to make a formal apology.

But the public revealing of the payment sets an extraordinary precedent. It is hardly uncommon for incorrect refereeing decisions to drastically alter the course of matches, all of which have financial repercussions.

At the time, the FAI asked if they could go to the World Cup as a 33rd team. "They have asked very humbly 'Can't we be team No 33 at the World Cup?' They have asked for that, really," Blatter said on stage at the draw, sniggering.

Delaney also revealed a recent encounter between his partner, Emma English, and Blatter at Uefa's Annual Congress in Vienna two months ago.

"He stared at her for seven or eight seconds and he said: 'I approve of your new girlfriend'. It was an extraordinary moment," said Delaney.

"He stared at her and I said 'move on' and he did."

Fifa admitted making the payment to the FAI but said it was a loan and was granted for "the construction of a stadium in Ireland".

A Fifa statement read: "While the referee's decision is final, and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) ultimately accepted it as such, in January 2010 Fifa entered into an agreement with FAI in order to put an end to any claims against Fifa .

"Fifa granted FAI a loan of $5million for the construction of a stadium in Ireland. At the same time, Uefa also granted the FAI funds for the same stadium.

"The terms agreed between Fifa and the FAI were that the loan would be reimbursed if Ireland qualified for the 2014 Fifa World Cup. Ireland did not so qualify. Because of this, and in view of the FAI's financial situation, Fifa decided to write off the loan as per 31 December 2014."

The two organisations differ with the figure.

The FAI claim the figure was €5m (£3.65 million), while Fifa's claim of $5m equates to £3.25million.

Jim Boyce, who stepped down as Britain's Fifa vice-president last week, labelled the payment "ridiculous" and said there should be a full investigation into such "arbitrary" payments.

The former Irish FA president said: "I'm absolutely astounded - I have never heard anything as ridiculous in my life.

"If a payment of $5million has been paid because of a handball and threatened legal action then I hope a full investigation will be carried out into this and any other such arbitrary payments."

The development focuses further attention on Fifa's unorthodox business practices after the disclosure this week that it paid disgraced Fifa vice-president Jack Warner on behalf of South Africa ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

A leaked letter from the South African Football Association (SAFA) showed they instructed Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke to pay 10million US dollars to Warner in 2008. Within hours of the letter being made public, Blatter had announced he will stand down as Fifa president as soon as a new election takes place next year.

Defiant departing Fifa president Blatter is continuing to press forward with his plans for reform within the damaged organisation despite calls for him to have no further involvement.

Blatter has held a meeting with Domenico Scala, independent chairman of the audit and compliance committee, but the storm around him continues and former Fifa vice-president Warner has said he will reveal all he knows about corruption at world football's governing body.

"I will no longer keep secrets for them who actively seek to destroy the country," he said in an address on Trinidadian TV.

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