The fallout from last night's game has been astonishing. All around the world, Henry’s handball is the centre of sport attention. Here in Ireland, it is the lead story on front page and back. It’s been spoken about in the Dáil while the BBC have held a live blog about the fall-out, the sort of treatment they usually only give to actual matches.
The demand of the Football Association of Ireland today is simple – a replay. They’ve lodged an official protest over last night’s result, a move I agree with because to accept it without kicking up a fuss would insult the two-million Irish fans who watched the game. FIFA have so far said no to this and (in my opinion) rightly so. Decisions of referees should be sacrosanct, even when they are wrong. Nonetheless, like a lot of Irish fans, I am clinging to the hope that such a replay should be given. It’s what my heart wants, even if my head says that it shouldn’t happen. Like all Irish fans, I have no problem when my side are beaten fairly – I just want to be given the honour of fairness.
FIFA have released a statement on the matter this afternoon, referring to Law Number 5 in their Laws of the Game which can be seen here. It is both long and convoluted but essentially FIFA are standing by it to say that the referee’s decision is final, and cannot be tampered with. However, there is precedent which may work in our favour.
In 2005, Uzbekistan and Bahrain played a World Cup Qualifier in which the referee made an incorrect decision which averted the course of the game. Essentially, a player encroached into the box as a penalty was taken and the referee ordered a free kick for the defending team, rather than allowing the penalty to be re-taken. To me, that’s a less significant mistake than last night’s but it was nonetheless regarded as important enough to render the game null and void. That judgement was made under article 12.4 of the 2006 FIFA World Cup regulations, which essentially gives organising bodies the right to make such decisions. It should also be noted that this decision was made despite Article 14.4 (amended slightly for the 2010 World Cup, under the title Article 13.6) which states that 'no protests may be made about the referee’s decisions regarding facts connected with play. Such decisions are final...'
It would seem that, as they say, would be that. The FAI look likely to have no way of protesting last night. I’ve read through any relevant legislation that I can find and can see only one course of action. Article 5.g says 'all participants...including players...should observe the principles of fair play.' Those principles, under the FIFA Fair Play Code, call on players to ‘play fair’, to ‘observe the laws of the game’, to ‘respect opponents, team-mates, referees, officials and specators’, to ‘honour those who defend football’s good reputation’ and perhaps most crucially, ‘denounce those who attempt to discredit our sport’. Last night, Thierry Henry discredit football by his actions and it is now up to FIFA to take action. I don’t hold my breath.
Ireland’s only other hope is that the French FA step in on our behalf. The public in France, I’ve been told by people there, are unhappy with last night’s match. They want to qualify with honour, like the other 30 countries who won their way through to join South Africa in the World Cup. However, given the large financial bonus that comes with playing in a World Cup, I wouldn’t expect this to happen, nor would I believe that the French authorities should go to bat for Ireland. We may just have to walk away from this incident with a very bitter taste in our mouths.