The Last Word: Our moral righteousness is as pathetic as cheating
Sunday 22 November 2009
It was what we all wanted and, as ever, it has made the collective feel so much better. In the hours after Wednesday night's grotesque violation at the Stade de France we all went to bed vowing recrimination, which basically entailed calling Thierry Henry "a cheat" and promising him that his reputation was irrevocably ruined and that the smear of his vile deeds will follow him to his grave, and very probably, thereafter.
"He could have been a hero and he blew it," was how we consoled ourselves as we drifted off into the slumber of the good and the just. "Who would want to win like that?" we recounted as the bitterness continued to pour over our taste buds. Why, these grapes weren't sour – they were ethically putrid.
Of course, when we awoke on Thursday we were delighted that everyone else felt the same. And the "there should be a replay" argument, which sounded ridiculous when first entering our fury the previous evening, suddenly, in the unanimity of the outcry, took on an undeniable quality. This was it. The moment when football would be changed forever. No more of the injustice, no more of the cheating culture. Stop it now, before it corrupts our kids.
Yes, in the age-old process of football grieving, pity had given way to anger which had now given way to optimism. The sport would take something positive out of the incident; our tears would have had their purpose, all that pain we suffered would not have been in vain. Over to you, Mr Fifa. Here's the chance to cleanse football's soul. Alas, Mr Fifa isn't listening. He has taken a quick peek at the big picture and stuck to the guns which shall, for now, remain in his holster. It means the finger of blame will carry on fidgeting awhile; from Henry to the officials, to the French football association, before finally coming to rest on Fifa.
Essentially, they are the real culprits. It is their stubbornness, their pig-headedness which is blocking the video reform that would end all of this angst in one swift resolution. They truly are not worthy...
Well, actually they are. Fifa are about the only players in this drama who have not been hypocritical. Sure, they may be essentially wrong in their continuing refusal to bow to the eye in the sky, but at least they have been consistent and at least they have been measured. What did we want? For them to be as outraged as us and to announce they shall be referring to the technology immediately? That is probably what our own knee-jerking Football Association would have done as their army of PR consultants went all Malcolm Tucker over the headlines. Fifa have to be bigger than that, have to obey their processes. After all, the formation of precedents is a dangerous game.
But there is a precedent, screamed the Football Association of Ireland. What about Uzbekistan v Bahrain in 2005? They replayed that World Cup qualifier after a refereeing cock-up. Well, yes they did, but only because the referee happened to ignore the Fifa rulebook on that occasion. When an Uzbekistani player entered the penalty area just as his team-mate was converting a spot-kick, the official duly awarded Bahrain an indirect free-kick. In fact, the law states the penalty should be retaken.
In Paris, Martin Hansson did not ignore any rulebook. He did not see Henry handle the ball and think to himself "I'm going to allow that in this instance". Mr Hansson simply did not see Henry handle the ball. But if you believe some of the commentators in the hysterical reaction, he did see Henry handle the ball and, as part of a wider conspiracy involving everyone in Fifa right up to the president, chose to point to the centre circle. Whatever it takes to get the big names through.
Believe that and you must also believe that Jouni Hyytia awarded Ireland an absurd penalty against Georgia earlier in the qualifying campaign for exactly the same reason. It's funny but watching the clip on YouTube – with the Republic one goal down in the 70th minute at Croke Park with an upset looming – it's hard to spot Robbie Keane or any of the other Irish players running up to the ref to point out that his decision was erroneous and that, in fact, their opponents were about to be the victims of a scandalous verdict. But then none of them had been directly involved so it was not up to them to come clean, was it?
Maybe it wasn't in football's twisted logic, but that doesn't make the Georgians' grievance any less authentic than the Irish. It doesn't matter if a place in the World Cup was on the line or not. Fifa must judge it coldly, by the instant alone and not bring any external factors of what it meant, or might have meant, into consideration.
When they come next to discuss the subject of using video replays then the case of Henry's handball should only be afforded the same merit in the debate as the Georgians' non-handball or the hundreds of other refereeing blunders which occur every month. Otherwise, hypocrisy will rule the day.
But then, it has ruled much of the hysterical reaction, which was supposedly concerned with things more far-reaching than the mere identities of the teams. It was only big news in Britain because it involved the poor little Irish and the miscreant was a Premier League saint; or that should be someone who was built up as a Premier League saint.
Henry is no more a cheat on this Sunday than he was last Sunday and if last Sunday this hypothetical question had been raised then the answer would have matched the reality: "Would Henry purposefully break the rules to give his team an advantage? Would he then admit to doing so?" We all know that the response would have been a resounding "yes, no". So why were we surprised?
Because it makes us feel better, that is why. Our moral righteousness is as much a part of footballing culture as cheating is. And, quite frankly, it is just as pathetic.
Letter of the week
I enjoy your balanced view on all subjects except one, the total lack of any coverage of Welsh rugby. Last week, I opened the Sunday sports section and turned eagerly to the rugby union coverage. There were the usual pages about England, a report on Scotland v Fiji, a report on Italy v New Zealand, and Northampton v Saracens! On Wales v Samoa from Friday night, nothing. The lack of any coverage of anything Welsh in your rugby columns has been noticeable for some time. Such blatant anti-Welshness borders on racism, not something I'd associate with the rest of your coverage.
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