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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fair Play, Law 5, and Thierry Henry

FIFA World Cup 2010 Qualifying Play Off soccer match, Ireland vs France - First Round
"I will be honest. It was a handball."

According to the Castrol Index, Thierry Henry was the highest rated player in world football during 2009. The elegant, sublime, and prolific French striker has played and entertained at the highest levels for many years.

After watching Irish hearts around the world crushed last night in Paris, several issues need to be addressed.

1. Thierry Henry, according to Richard Dunne of the Republic, admitted to handling the ball after the game in what will become an iconic photograph. Mr. Henry apparently also told the match referee, Martin Hansson of Sweden, after the game.
"Asked if he considered telling the referee, he replied: 'I did. At the end.'

Pressed as to why he didn't inform officials at the time, Henry said: 'Do I stop, tell the referee and then cross? Very funny.' "

Source: Irish Times, 19 November 2009.

Please watch the video a few times. The trajectory of the ball, along with how Henry cradled it, should have been clear indicators. Not to mention the dual offside position preceding the controversial play. There were many factors in this situation that were missed by the match officials and/or not interpreted correctly.

2. In his own words: Thierry Henry.
“I will be honest,” said the Frenchman, without a hint of irony, “it was a handball. I played it, the ref allowed it. It would have been better to do it another way, but I am not the ref.”

Source: The Telegraph, 19 November 2009.

"I told Dunne," Henry said. "He said the same to me, 'you're not the ref'. That's why the players did not come to me, that's why they went to the referee.

"You can clearly see the opportunity. Sebastien Squillaci went to jump for the ball with two Irish players and I'm behind him. The next thing I know the ball hit my hand, my arm even. It was right in front of me, I played it.

"The ref allowed it and that's a question you should ask him."

Source: BBC Sport, 19 November 2009.

3. Law 5 and the Match Referee

"The Authority of the Referee

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."

Source: Law 5- The Referee.

If the player admitted to the infraction, if his body language and that of his teammates indicated the same thing that millions of people around the world saw, why can't the three match officials admit that they missed something? Because Law 5 absolves FIFA and/or UEFA from doing anything about the situation. Calls for match replays can come from politicians, the Irish FA, and millions of fans. But according to Law 5, nobody except Mr. Hansson has any power in the situation.

4. The Concept of Fair Play

We hear it all the time from FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, along with UEFA President, Michel Platini. Before most international games, young children carry out banners with "Fair Play" boldly emblazoned for all to see. After the World Cup final in Berlin, Marco Materazzi of the Azzurri was suspended for 2 games for apparent inflammatory language as interpreted by a lip reader. He later was awarded a public apology from a British tabloid in the matter. But his suspension marked the first time a player was ever punished for an apparent verbal provocation that was not heard or seen by the match official.

What really is Fair Play?

Giovanni Trapattoni, manager of the Republic, on Fair Play:
"I would prefer to have gone out on penalties. The referee had time to ask the linesman and then after to ask Henry. It would not have been the first time a player would have asked and it would not have been out of turn.

I am upset for fair play. We talk many times about fair play, I go to schools and talk to young children about the importance of fair play, and this happens. I spoke to the referee and I told him he may have made a great mistake. Everybody saw the game. You know what happened.

We played a great game. We deserved to win."

Source: BBC Sport, 19 November 2009.

This begs the obvious question?

Marco Materazzi Accepts Apology From British Tabloid
Marco Materazzi after his successful day in court.

What will UEFA or FIFA do about Thierry Henry after the most blatant display of cheating in recent memory?

My suggestions:

1. Mr. Hansson, as the match referee, should replay the game from the moment the double hand ball occurred in the first extra time with the score 0 x 1. One can argue that this would set a tremendous precedent for future matches; however, this was a key fixture with millions of dollars/euros/pounds on the line. Soccer is a big business; not making the World Cup will cost the Irish FA dearly.

2. Red card Thierry Henry and make France play with 10 men.

3. Suspend Thierry Henry for the next 2 international fixtures. To his credit, Mr. Henry has admitted to the handling offense. But Fair Play should have been displayed during the game. Why didn't he tell Mr. Hansson about his offense after the goal was scored? That would have been in the true spirit of fair play. His response above was somewhat ironic. Nobody would expect him to stop at that exact moment. Now he wants us to believe that Mr. Hansson owns the problem? Surely, if Henry told him during the game, and Mr. Hansson decided to allow the goal by William Gallas, the French captain's perspective would be correct.

The other issue is one of legacy. Does Thierry Henry want an entire career to be defined by this one moment? As Warren Buffett said, "It can take 20 years to earn a good reputation, and only 5 minutes to lose it."

4. FIFA and UEFA, along with other regional authorities, need to allow match officials to talk to the press and the public. We never hear their side of the story. They are human and make mistakes. It might also help fans to understand the unique pressures placed upon referees in such important matches. They should not be protected from the same questions as players and managers. Don't you want to hear Mr. Hansson's perspective on the matter, along with his assistants?

5. Introduce goal line video replays or another match official behind the goal. Why does the fourth official stand at the center line for the whole game? As play approaches the goal mouth, he could replace the referee's assistant who could be positioned behind the goal.

6. Stop parading children before internationals with "Fair Play" banners. Please reference the quote above by Mister Trapattoni. If we want to set the standard for children, adults must pave the way.

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