Henry’s handball: indicative of morality?

A lot of soccer players – and athletes in general – talk about honor. Usually they mean something like playing to honor a dead, dying, or otherwise important relative or stranger or great player from the past. Announcers push their morality onto the players. The best example in the US is the sanctimonious football and baseball announcer Joe Buck. Rarely does anyone talk about honor on the pitch.

David Halberstom wrote a great book called The Breaks of the Game which basically sums up how athletes feel about cheating, luck, or what have you. It boils down to the idea that everything evens out, that everyone will eventually get the same number of breaks. Thierry Henry implied as much after his handball tied the match with Ireland yesterday. ”It was a handball, but I’m not the ref,” he said on BBC Radio Five Live. ”The ball hit my arm, fell in front of me and I played it. The ref allowed it. That’s a question you should ask him.” The player admitted the mistake but blamed the ref for not catching it. Them’s the breaks, he says.

Except “breaks” is a terms to describe something flukey. It’s pretty obvious that Henry created his own break there by cradling the ball so it wouldn’t go out of bounds and then passing across the box, which William Gallas slotted home for the tying goal (and the goal that put France through to the World Cup, something it does not deserve even a little bit). If it was accidental, I could accept that. But it clearly wasn’t. It was purposeful. It was intentional. It was a desperate act by a member of a desperate team. Imagine the ignominy if France had not made it to the World Cup!

One could argue that Ireland did it to themselves by not winning in Dublin on Saturday. Sure, that holds some water. But not enough. Ireland played better yesterday and scored a legitimate goal. A penalty shootout should have been their just reward, if not for Henry’s chicanery.

The FAI is, predictably, apoplectic. It wants a replay, which does have some precedent (a 2005 match between Uzbekistan and Bahrain was declared invalid after a referee mistake). FIFA should do the right thing: order a replay. Perhaps France will win 2-0 and erase any doubt. Perhaps Ireland will win 2-0 and overcome the goal given up in Dublin. Who knows? The only thing I know is that the result should not stand. It’s the moral thing to do.


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