The Hand of Gaul

Gaul

-noun

an ancient region in W Europe, including the modern areas of N Italy, France, Belgium, and the S Netherlands: consisted of two main divisions, one part S of the Alps (Cisalpine Gaul) and another part N of the Alps (Transalpine Gaul).

a native or inhabitant of France.

Gall

-noun

1. Impudence, effrontery
2. Something bitter to endure

Synonyms: nerve, audacity, brass, cheek

It’s the 103rd minute of the match. You’re in Extra-Time. The ball comes over the head of an offside Escude (who apparently was not interfering with play) and looks to be trickling over the line for a goal kick. You decide to handle the ball, stopping it from going out of play. You handle the ball again as you set yourself for the 2-pointer into the basketball net. You think, “Wait, this isn’t basketball – this is football and outfield players are not allowed to handle the ball”, so you let go of the football and roll it across the box for your fellow Frenchman to tap the ball in for the winning goal, in spite of the fact that the Irish defence have stopped playing and are claiming hand-ball. You are a Gillette poster-boy. You have endorsed Nike, Reebok and Pepsi.  You are a world-renowned footballer and celebrity.  You are an advocate for Fair Play on the field. You used your hands to control a football.
You cheated.

Unsurprisingly this has been the talk of football and sporting fans the world over. Everybody has an opinion on what happened on Wednesday 18th November 2009 – needless to say, as an Irishman I feel what happened is a disgrace. Thierry Henry should be ashamed of himself and has even come out to the media and apologised for his actions, although to me it sounds like he’s trying to cover his read end, (for the story click here) but that’s football and rules cannot be changed – the referee’s decision on the field is final. Unfortunately the outcome of that decision is rather unsettling.

Politics

“Neither the French government nor the Irish government should interfere in the functioning of the international federation,” Francois Fillon, the French Prime Minister said. Didn’t expect that! Fillon is obviously thinking that this is a sporting matter and therefore is the concern of the proper governing body, FIFA, but alas it has turned into a political matter. The grumblings of the past have affected a lot of Irish people who are unwilling to forgive and forget and the fallout of the latest development could be severe: there are rumours of boycotting all French products including food and clothing, and of boycotting any product endorsed by Mr. Henry. This could lead to problems in trade, import and export between France and Ireland and even the Continent and Ireland. Naturally the refusal of the French Government to do anything about the incident will not help relations between the two countries either.

Racism

Henry has been the subject of racial abuse in the past having some slurs directed at him by the then Spanish coach Luis Aragonés. This prompted the Nike Stand Up Speak Up campaign against racism with Henry at the forefront. Unfortunately there is a group of people who are directing racial abuse at the Frenchman, as a result tarnishing everyone who is annoyed at Henry with the same brush. I do not condone racial abuse whatsoever and it has no place in a sports environment.

FIFA

I have been perusing the FIFA.com website since Wednesday and I have yet to see any mention of Henry’s hand-ball to date (Nov 20th). It’s as if it never happened! I’m not surprised given Sepp Blatter’s recent announcements; mainly the new play-off format (to ensure the big teams go to the World Cup) introduced near the end of the qualifying campaign. I was even less surprised to hear that they refuse to take any action on the matter: “In the reply, FIFA states that the result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed. As is clearly mentioned in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final.” So why didn’t you pick a more experienced referee for such a high-stakes game?

Naturally, if they got off their asses and did something it would contradict the rules of the game and the general FIFA Fair Play ethos. Wait…Fair Play? FIFA endorse playing fairly? This is a quote from FIFA’s website: “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.”

Oh right…so Henry’s actions are acceptable? [insert bemused tone here]

The Referee’s Decision is Final

This is the rule in the book and it doesn’t get any clearer than that. This is also the reason that there cannot be a rematch. As much as I want one and as much as I believe it must happen for the integrity of the game, it cannot due to this rule. Bear in mind the precedent that would be set if there was a rematch – any decision that someone doesn’t like could be questioned and a rematch called for – it would be chaotic. What could and should happen is what the boys over in the Rugby clubs have – video replay and judging. FIFA have brought in extra referees lately and even given the old lino a new name – Assistant Referee. Why not have an Assistant Referee watching the game on a monitor and viewing the replays for dodgy decisions?

The Internet

It’s the fastest and easiest tool for freedom of speech and the internet is absolutely flying with the Henry Hand-ball issue. Numerous Facebook pages were set up minutes after the event with the most popular ones being the “We Irish Hate Thierry Henry (the cheat)” and “Petition to have Ireland v France Replayed”. There are over 85,000 members on the former and over 240,000 on the latter – quite staggering considering there are also thousands of comments on both groups. Wikipedia have had to close their Thierry Henry page to editing due to vandalism! Since writing this the “We Irish Hate Thierry Henry” page has been closed by Facebook. Henry has become the most hated man in Ireland, ironically his predecessor, Brian Cowen, is in the limelight for the right reason – trying to get the match re-staged!

Henry himself mentioned on his Twitter page that he was sorry if he hurt someone and suggested that blame is solely on the referee – but Thierry, could you not have held you hand up and said to the ref “hey, I cheated there – cancel the goal”, instead of keeping your hand low and cheating the game?

Dave Jones, a friend of mine, expressed his fear of the internet describing the future as “daunting”, talking about the various groups and pages that were set up and edited. But he also said something quite profound: “It really is a moment that could define Henry for all the wrong reasons, and what a player for it to happen to – a future ambassador of the game!”

Anyway, if the hand was on the other foot, would we be complaining as much? Probably not, but it’s still shocking to see such an injustice in that game I love so much.

D

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