P has been very supportive of my writing, and I think he is as excited as I am that people are enjoying the blog. He doesn’t consider himself a “writer” but felt passionately enough about a football match recently (the Ireland v. France World Cup qualifier on Wednesday) that he actually asked me if he could write a guest post. So although it is off topic (though P argues that it is not “off topic” since he loves football, and thus it is “part of our household”), I hope you enjoy P’s take on the game and his very first (ever!) blog posting.
The playoff game between France and Ireland for a place in the World Cup 2010 is going to be the most talked over controversial game in the days to come. I watched the Irish luck run out yesterday evening with two fellow spectators who happened to be Irishmen, and to say we all felt gutted, angered, and disappointed would be an understatement. Thierry Henry clearly handled the ball, not once but twice, which led to the winning goal that robbed Ireland a possible but deserved place in the 2010 World Cup. He later admitted saying “I will be honest, it was a hand ball. But I’m not the ref. I played it. The ref allowed it. That’s a question you should ask him.”
To Henry’s admittance of handball and his sly act to pass the blame to the ref, Richard Williams of the guardian writes, “No, mon brave, but you are the captain of France, the country that gave us the World Cup, and here you had the chance to show us what sport can mean – or, at least, what we tell our children it means.” Not to mention that the French also gave us existentialism and Albert Camus who surely knew about morality and the duty of man as bravery and fair play, something that he learned and valued during his goalkeeping stint for RUA (Racing Universitaire Algerois).
I think Henry had been a role model (this has been also debated lately) up to now with his reputation both on the field and more importantly off the field where he has actively led the anti-racist campaign, UNICEF, and the Joga Bonito (play beautiful) ad campaigns. Henry could have admitted to the ref at the 103rd minute and he would have hit the news headlines for a different reason. But he is human after all and the stakes were all too high. Most players would have probably done the same.
The French public, the media, and former players have joined the legions of people who have lashed out at Henry to reveal their displeasure and embarrassment in the manner the victory has come. A major section of the French nation has turned against the former Highbury star. Clearly the French national team has been mismanaged which was evident from its lackluster play and is only thriving in the shadows of its past performances. The Irish were by far the better and more entertaining team.
This game will reignite further debates, first, on the use of video technology in football (soccer). Both FIFA and UEFA are strictly against the use of video evidence and have pushed towards reliance on referees. Then the other issue, which is both ethical and normative, is what constitutes ‘fair play’ in football. The first point in the FIFA code of conduct reads: “Play fair – Winning is without value if victory has been achieved unfairly or dishonestly. Cheating is easy, but brings no pleasure. Playing fair requires courage and character. It is also more satisfying. Fair play always has its reward, even when the game is lost. Playing fair earns respect, while cheating only brings shame. Remember: it is only a game. And games are pointless unless played fairly.”
The fact of the matter is Ireland is out and France is through. FIFA will end up turning a deaf ear to the Irish pleas. The country will have to wait another agonizing four years to be able to resurrect their hopes of qualifying to the next World Cup. Should FIFA always try and give an easy passage to the top-seeded teams in the WC qualification playoffs and maintain the hegemony? Perhaps Portugal would have played France and Bosnia played Ireland had the seedings not been included at the last minute in the selection for playoff qualification. I would not mind seeing Džeko instead of Gallas or Anelka. One can only hope FIFA learns some valuable lessons with Ireland’s misfortune. Henry, already in the twilight of his career, will probably lose his revered status among a majority of his supporters and every game he participates in from now on will be fraught with criticism. Like Zidane’s moment of madness in the last World Cup when he headbutted Materazzi, this will be talked about for a while. Love it or hate it. This is football.