I thought it a little out of perspective and then realised that it wasn’t at all. We were visiting an elderly member of our congregation who was eager for us to tell him the news, what was happening in the world. When Dorothy, our pastoral visitor, said that most of the talk was about France’s goal that knocked Ireland out of the World Cup I was a little embarrassed that we had lost a perspective on world events when a goal in what was just a game was headline news. Then I realised that this was not just a goal in what was just a soccer game... it was a whole lot bigger than that. When Thierry Henry handed the ball to cheat his team’s way to South Africa next summer, he cheated for a nation against another nation; he stole people’s careers and many people in Ireland’s jobs; he became, and I don’t think I exaggerate, another oppressor of a people who had justice rent from them.
Let us deal with the cheating first. Sport has never seen so much cheating as it has in recent times, whether it is use of drugs, players diving or the faking blood injury that so recently made the headlines. Is it sportsmanship or is it cheating? It is cheating and in today’s world where people spend vast amounts of money on tickets and travel in order to see these great sporting events it is only justice that they get their money’s worth and are not cheated out of seeing the best team win. We remember Neil Back punching the ball out of Peter Stringer’s hand in the last moments of a Rugby Union Heineken Cup Final. A crowd and television audience were cheated out of an amazing finale and Leicester took the Cup. Maradona’s “hand of God” robbed an English team of World Cup progress in 1986.
That this is just another minor incident in sport is fails to recognise the wide implications of this soccer result. It is injustice at lots of level and robs the fans of their well earned money and the players of the development of their careers. Irish players at the World Cup Finals next year would have been able to show their talents on the world’s greatest stage improving their career prospects and contracts as well. If other professions went through the same type of robbery people would be put in jail for years! Other professions are also effected by Henry’s actions. Ireland, with an ailing Celtic Tiger could have generated much from having a team at the World Cup Finals. Travel, merchandise, tourism and the general morale of the workforce have been left without the lift that justice might have brought. Yes, we might still have needed penalties but if we had lost in that manner it would at least have been a correct result. That cheating robs individuals and nations has serious repercussions.What can we do though? Some have called for video evidence and it seems utterly amazing that soccer would be stupid enough to not bring in technology at the highest levels of the game where so much money is changing hands. However, we should remember that these are the same clever men who give yellow cards to people for taking off their shirts while celebrating goals! FIFA have never revealed themselves as the smartest directors of sport! Richard Dunne who had an unprecedented apology on the pitch from Henry at the final whistle might blame the referee rather than Henry but the referee had to see it before he could give it. What can be done to stop such cheating is a three year ban for such offences. The three year ban that Dean Richards got for the fake blood injury in Rugby Union pales into insignificance compared to Henry’s act against the Irish. A three year ban would certainly make Henry and others like him think before he does it the next time.
Henry and Dunne sitting beside each other on the final whistle said it all about this incident. Henry knows he cheated. His confession was moving and deserves some respect but it was a little too little way too late. It is not too far to push the incident into global terms and agree that FIFA got their way because the bigger country with a bigger television audience qualified for the World Cup Finals. Sport is as financially dirty as anything else these days and the seeding for the qualifiers and then this particular outcome adds another historical travesty where the minnows are oppressed by the richer powerful nations. Had Duff done what Henry did I wonder how much easier it would have been to get FIFA to call for a replay!
This is not just a wee incident in an inconsequential game of soccer. It has the right to hit the headlines because injustice needs ripped asunder and thrown out of our world. We all want a world that is fair and it is up to us all in the places we live to bring that fairness to bear. Henry, France, the referee and FIFA have a responsibility to stand for it. They didn’t and won’t. So, my question to self is why do I trust such a game and support it with my money and time? Soccer doesn’t deserve it but I will probably succumb!