I have been doing a lot of reading of FIFA’s official website this week, not for their match reports, but their page on Fair Play and interestingly it states: “The generic concept of fair play is a fundamental part of the game of football. It represents the positive benefits of playing by the rules, using common sense and respecting fellow players, referees, opponents and fans.”
A word that they use is common sense, and in my view they have shown none by putting a dampener on the replaying of the World Cup play-off match between France and Ireland, in which a clear hand-ball by Thierry Henry meant Les Bleus booked their ticket for South Africa.
It goes on to say – “Fair Play has a fundamental role in sport and there is a need to apply it to all sporting activities, especially children’s activities. Children need strong values to grow up with, and football, being a team sport, makes them realize how essential discipline, respect, team spirit and fair play are for the game and for life.”
Therefore, if fair play has a fundamental role in sport then why is common sense not prevailing, and a replay set-up? Conclusive video evidence that has been seen worldwide by millions of people has shown that Henry handled the ball not once, but twice, before William Gallas put the ball in the back of the Irish net.
Qualification for the World Cup would have lifted the spirits of the Irish nation, a country in darkness; it would have been our shining light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Instead, our team who put on their greatest performance in years on Wednesday night will be watching the World Cup from their armchairs next June.
For players like: Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Kevin Kilbane, Damien Duff and Richard Dunne it would have been their chance to play on the big stage, but now they may never get that chance again.
As long as FIFA abide by their rule book then the injustices will continue. They keep quoting Law 5 – “Each match is controlled by a referee who has full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game in connection with the match to which he has been appointed.”
“The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.”
Those are the rules, and they are set in stone as far as FIFA are concerned, and as long as they are then Fair Play has to give. The referee is not always right, and we have seen that many times in football. But what I can’t understand is why the referee didn’t take the time to consult his assistant or fourth official because it was quite clear from the Irish players’ reactions that they had been cheated. Cheating is a dirty scar on the face of the beautiful game, and once again it has raised its ugly head.
Today the man at the centre of the controversy, Thierry Henry has come out and said “Naturally I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa,” said Henry in a statement today. “Of course the fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control.”
Henry knows he is in the wrong and he has admitted it, and accepted responsibility for putting Ireland out of the World Cup. France had their backs against the wall in Stade de France on Wednesday night; but it was a night to remember for all the wrong reasons. As far as I am concerned Ireland were the better team over the two legs, and deserved to go through overall. Instead, France are off to the World Cup next summer courteousy of an own goal and a backhander.
It’s clear to me that FIFA have set a marker down and that’s it, they are not going to budge. The FAI, Irish captain Robbie Keane and French captain the aforementioned Thierry Henry have all accepted that in the interests of fairness the game should be replayed. The next step will be if the French Football Federation also takes the same line, it will put FIFA under huge pressure, and they will undoubtedly have to give in.
If not, then this game will have to be a catalyst for change. The calls for goal-line technology and extra referees grow ever greater. I am sure FIFA won’t want a repeat performance of this at a World Cup.
UEFA have been trialling the extra officials in this season Europa League where two extra officials help the referee and his assistants make decisions regarding incidents within the penalty areas, they are positioned behind the goal lines at either end of the pitch and can communicate with the referee via headsets. If UEFA had been trialling those officials in a major World Cup play-off then this incident would never have happened.
For now, the cries for a replay continue, as this story looks set to run and run for this weekend at least. To sum it up, I quote comedian and Father Ted star Ardal O’ Hanlon who said – “There’s nothing like injustice to galvanise a nation” And that is what this has done.