Thierry Henry: That's French For Unsportsmanlike

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Thierry Henry: That's French For Unsportsmanlike

The World Cup, much like the Olympics, is meant to be a pinnacle of the sporting world.  Countries pin their hopes and wishes on their team, hoping to ride an emotional wave of pride and euphoria to a title.  Unless, of course, someone cheats and knocks your team out of the tournament before they ever get to play a game.

I can’t shake the image of Thierry Henry controlling the ball with his hand.  It haunts me.  If I lived in Ireland, my day would consist of moping around in shock, anger and disbelief. 

For those that aren’t aware of the situation, Ireland and France were playing off for a World Cup berth, with France having won the first leg 1-0.  Ireland was winning the second leg 1-0, when the offending play happened.  France striker, Thierry Henry, controlled the ball in the box with his hand before passing it back across the goal to William Gallas, who headed home the tying goal.  That goal sent France to the World Cup and denied Ireland the chance to play in the world’s biggest tournament.  If you haven’t seen the play, here it is

The essence of sports is that they provide an arena for competition among athletes where the better athlete or team is rewarded with a victory and the satisfaction of besting an opponent.  This arena should provide fair competition, so that it’s the skill and determination of the competitors that decide the outcome, not different rules for different competitors.

Is this the only time that anyone has cheated in soccer or another sport?  Of course not, but it’s a fantastic example of the dark side of sports.  If you don’t believe me, just go back to that YouTube clip and watch Henry, number 12, celebrating his cheater’s triumph.  He was soaking in the cheers of the fans, even though he knew that it wasn’t a fair goal.

I don’t think Henry planned to control the ball with his hand.  It looks like a natural reaction on the replay.  What he could have done, however, was put his hand up and admit to the indiscretion.  He didn’t have to claim the goal, that was his choice.

The problem is, this type of behavior is continually rewarded.  Players dive and handle the ball all the time, and officials let them get away with it.  In fact, players are often rewarded for their antics with penalties and free kicks.  If we want them to be sportsmanlike, then match officials need to start rewarding sportsmanlike behavior and punishing those who dive, tug jerseys and other foul play.

Many people have asked why the referee didn’t blow the play down, but I’m not sure he saw it.  His line of sight was blocked and it would have been up to the linesman to make the call then.  When the pace of the play is so quick and there are a mass of players in the box, it’s not always easy to see.  This is why so many major sports have included the use of instant replay.  FIFA, however, has steadfastly refused to incorporate the technology, despite support for it.  Most of the proposals have been to include replay only for reviewing goals, and this could have been one of those situations.

Another thing that really bothers me about the whole situation, is the lack of support from other football federations.  Other countries should be just as upset by the injustice as Ireland is.  Why haven’t England, Spain, Italy or the Netherlands spoken up?  Why aren’t other nations saying they don’t want to be in the group stage against a team that advanced unfairly.

It’s hard to say the blame is all at the feet of Henry, the match official or the FIFA officials who refuse to add replay for goals.  They all have some blame, and they are all responsible for ripping the hearts out of Irish fans.  They don’t owe Ireland an apology; they owe them a chance at the World Cup. 

Ireland hasn’t asked for a victory, they’ve asked for replay, essentially a “do-over” on the game.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask given that the result was so tainted.  This wasn’t an extra goal in a 5-1 game, it was the deciding goal in the final minutes of the decisive match.

FIFA needs to remember that there are a whole generation of young fans watching these games that just learned it’s OK to cheat.  How would you explain the game to a 6-year-old?  If the hand ball was wrong, then it should have been called back, it’s that simple.

Another thing that really bothers me about the whole situation, is the lack of support from other football federations.  Other countries should be just as upset by the injustice as Ireland is.  Why haven’t England, Spain, Italy or the Netherlands spoken up?  Why aren’t other nations saying they don’t want to be in the group stage against a team that advanced unfairly.

For their transgressions, Henry, the match official and FIFA officials should be sentenced to wander the streets of Dublin on St. Patty’s Day.

 

Find other articles by Ryan P at Sports Opinionated.

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