Fair-play gets a shot in the foot

In the wake of another missed “hand ball” by a referee during a recent World Cup 2010 qualifier between France and Ireland, sportsmanship and FIFA’s (Federation International Football Association) fair-play campaign has a greater focus.  During the two –game playoff to determine the right to play in the World Cup, French striker, Thierry Henry, while running inside the six-yard-box, palmed the ball down and volleyed a pass over to teammate, William Gallas to win the game on aggregate in extra time.

Republic of Ireland were set to make their fourth appearance at the World Cup stage just moments before, but the blatant hand ball was missed and French players stormed the field in excitement as Ireland emphatically protested the goal, but to no-a-vale.

FIFA has put several years and a sizeable amount of funds towards their “Fair-play” campaign.  There was nothing fair about the referee not standing his ground and calling off the goal as he was the only one with the power to do so.  Instead, celebrations were already taking place on the field as he discussed it with his linesmen, but it was too late.  The referee missed what is likely the most blatant handball in the history of the game.  Diego Maradona’s concealed hand ball to score a historic goal for Argentina was nothing compared to this missed call.  There was no need of instant replay to see that Henry’s hand ball was similar to that of a basketball player palming a basketball during a dribble, otherwise known as a “carry ball.”

If you’re charged with the responsibility of making the right call and one as obvious as this, you should be relieved of your job.

Handshakes, hugs and the exchanging of jersey’s following a game are wonderful gestures of sportsmanship, but without referees acting responsibly themselves, the world’s most popular game will always be under scrutiny as these referee’s continue to make mistakes.

The referee, even as celebrations had ensued, had the right to call the players back onto the field and disallow the goal.  He didn’t do that.

The Republic of Ireland filed an appeal and asked for the playoff match to be re-played from the moment the hand ball took place in the game.

Thierry Henry issued a statement that the only fair way to deal with his hand ball infraction, is to replay the game.

Henry was quoted as saying, “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.  Henry said it was an instinctive action to reach out and handle the ball and by playing the game myself, I truly can buy that, as in the heat of a fast paced game, I’ve found myself touching the ball momentarily, without meaning to. After the game Henry stepped up right away and told Irish players, his teammates and the referee that he had handled the ball, there was no denying it.

FIFA President, Sepp Blatter spoke to the media soon after Henry’s comments saying that it wasn’t the player’s responsibility and he (Henry) didn’t need to say anything.

To me, this is a case of actions speaking louder than words and contradicts FIFA’s statements about sportsmanship and fair-play in the beautiful game, which has reared its ugly head during this debacle. If anything, Blatter should be commending Henry for stepping forward and showing true sportsmanship, something often lost in professional sports.

The Republic of Ireland’s appeal to replay the match was immediately denied, with FIFA quoted as saying “the game was in the referees hands and we can do nothing about the result now.”

Arsenal coach, Arsene Wenger of the English Premiership is quoted as saying, “What is terrible for the referee is that he gave the goal knowing something was not regular, yet he had no help,” said Wenger. “I saw him walk from the linesman to the middle of the park, thinking ‘I have to give that goal’, knowing it is not a regular goal. That is where football is guilty.

Athletes like Thierry Henry show what an impact they can have on kids who listen or read his comments after the game. Even with a birth at the World Cup for his nation of millions on the line, he stepped forward and assumed responsibility for cheating in the heat of the moment.  Henry would replay the game, because it’s the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, the bigger message youth will receive from this ruling of unsportsmanlike behaviour, is that it pays to cheat. This message contradicts FIFA’s fair play initiative and shouldn’t be ignored. Republic of Ireland played fair, but they won’t be going to the World Cup Finals in South Africa.

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