Friday, 20 November 2009

World Cup controversy – Should there be a replay?

Following Thierry Henry’s blatant handball in the match between France and Ireland on Wednesday night calls for a replay have come from members of both sides hoping to remedy the injustice of the result. The French equaliser was netted by Arsenal defender William Gallas after Thierry Henry ‘assisted’ in the build-up; unfortunately this assistance amounted to what appeared to be early Basketball practice, with the referee failing to notice Henry essentially 'holding' the ball. Having dominated the game in the first half and levelled the scores on aggregate through the talismanic Robbie Keane, Ireland were just over fifteen minutes away from penalties until their efforts were rendered pointless. Justifiably upset, the criticism has flowed from the Irish quarters. Robbie Keane led the calls from the players today, asking for a reply “in the interest of fair play so that whichever team qualifies, can do so with their heads held high”. Although he has been painted as such by many newspapers, both in the British Isles and across the rest of Europe, Thierry Henry is certainly not the villain of this piece. I sincerely doubt that had any Irish players had the opportunity to commit the same offence as Henry, they wouldn't have done the same. Indeed many probably wouldn’t have owned up to doing so, or been brave enough to call for a replay as the only ‘fair’ option. As Keane acknowledged “to make such a statement took courage and honour, and all of us recognise that”. If only similar qualities could be shown by FIFA, allegedly bastions of ‘fair play’, ‘correctness’ and ‘equality’. Although such an accusation can only be made devoid of any supporting evidence, I highly doubt FIFA would have been satisfied had France failed to equalise and Ireland gone through. Whereas for many fans the absence of Ireland and the atmosphere its fans normally create from the tournament will be a huge disappointment.

The reaction of the French football authorities is a typically selfish and stubborn one, sycophantically backing FIFA’s refusal to call a replay. As far as I am concerned the use of the phrase ‘s*** happens’ in the response of the French Football Federation to the calls from the Irish FA shows the type of moral compass it possesses. Obviously I’m not trying to suggest that the FFF ought to act against French interests, but by supporting the calls from the FAI it could portray itself as an organisation that cares about the image of the game, and wants the next generation to grow up seeing football as a 'fair' sport. I’m sure the FFF would be the first to complain had France been denied a place in the World Cup in similar circumstances, although perhaps the potential revenue the World Cup will create for France has slightly distorted its thinking; how unfortunate. At least the Federation’s Vice President and Head of UEFA, Michel Platini, will be satisfied as I doubt he possesses sufficient intelligence to realise that Ireland and England are different countries. I would imagine he's taking great pleasure in finally 'getting one over' the English as he has attempted to do many times before. The involvement of French and Irish politicians in this, a dispute about a football match, is possibly a step too far but who are FIFA to tell others they ought not to involve themselves in a debate which has essentially become one of justice and fairness. Comments from the FFF that “not even the English would take it so far as to replay” are ridiculous and hugely out of context, and prove my aforementioned point about the ignorance of Platini and company of the socio-political situation within the British Isles. The “refereeing mistakes in qualifying” that have tragically blighted the French campaign, according to FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalletes, I very much doubt were of similar magnitude to the aberration on Wednesday.

Some have called for the re-opening of the debate on video technology, one which has been very much over-discussed, but this is not the central issue. This is a question of morality and fairness, and whilst the final decision ought to be with FIFA as the governing body, it would be nice to feel that the protestations of the ‘right-minded’ aren't just being ignored. For me it sends out a terrible message to youngsters hoping to get involved in the game, that no matter how hard you try and how fairly you play the game at any time you can be cheated out of deserved success. I sincerely hope the French Federation is unable to regain any sort of credibility after this, and that Irish football can recover, as the 2002 World Cup seems like a very long time ago now. Allegedly Damien Duff is suffering hugely following Ireland’s defeat; we can only hope he feels a game in which the interests of the 'top ten in the FIFA rankings' nations are served is still one in which he wants to participate. Liam Brady’s solemn assessment that “if the game’s going to survive, its got to be an equal playing field” will resonate with many who wish for football’s ‘integrity’ and ‘dignity’ to survive. As far as I am concerned, although he may still be sacked due to the abysmal qualifying performance, Raymond Domenech ought to be given the chance to ruin French chances in the World Cup, in the interest of ‘fairness’.

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