Opinion: In defence of Henry
Al Jazeera's Diana Worman says Fifa's pursuit of Thierry Henry is just a PR exercise.
Last Modified: 03 Dec 2009 17:15 GMT

Henry: the new pin-up boy for Fifa's fair play witch hunt [GALLO/GETTY]
Spare a thought for Thierry Henry.

He's the new unwitting poster boy for Fifa's fair play campaign.

The latest Fifa farce is set to see the France captain pursued by a disciplinary committee for his handball that knocked Ireland out of the World Cup playoff.

Henry twice handled the ball before passing to teammate William Gallas who scored the crucial goal that propelled Les Bleus to a 1-1 draw to win 2-1 on aggregate to qualify for the World Cup at the expense of Ireland.

The slow-mo replay of Henry's 'Hand of God' was replayed ad nauseum for days after the match in November, as if closer examination might find further evidence about Henry's cheating intent. 

Sepp Blatter, the boss of Fifa, has described the handball as "blatant unfair playing" and now seems to be heading on a moral crusade to discipline the striker as if to give a nod to Fifa's critics and attempt to diffuse the bad publicity as quickly as possible.

It seems likely, if the disciplinary committee find him guilty of bad behaviour, that Henry could receive a match ban and miss the opening game of the finals, thus pacifying those baying for some kind of retribution for his 'unsporting' behaviour.

Witch hunt

But Henry is the unwilling victim of a PR exercise. He’s been singled out as an example, despite the fact that his handball (intentional or not) is seen in every aspect of the game from World Cup qualifiers, to lower leagues.

Consider this: What would have happened to Henry, if the referee had done his job correctly and seen the handball?

He would have been yellow carded. No more. No red card, no suspension, no disciplinary committee, no witch hunt.

Every time a player tackles from behind to prevent a promising counter attack, they are deliberately playing unfairly. Every time a player pulls an opponent's shirt, the same could be said. The same with encroaching into the box during a penalty kick, or moving a wall inside the ten yards before a free kick is taken.

All of those things can prevent legitimate goals. All of those examples are instinctive, but just like Henry's handball, it could be argued that they are deliberate or even premeditated.

None of those other offences which happen every week across the footballing globe ever result in Fifa disciplinary committees.

Henry is not the first footballer to handball, and won't be the last [AFP] 

The only difference is that most of these "offences" don't so obviously change the outcome of a match, let alone the game to go to a World Cup.

And so other similar incidents of "cheating" don't reflect so glaringly and poorly on Fifa and their reluctance to modernise and embrace technology to assist referees.

Is it realistic to expect that Henry should have held up his hand and admitted handball? Where is the precedent for this?

It's just not part of the game. In fact, much of the passion of football fans is generated from arguing and feeling aggrieved about result-altering moments such as offsides, diving, penalties and… handballs.

These indiscretions intensify the drama. Fifa is acutely aware of this and are reluctant to risk making the game more sterile and predictable, by introducing technology that lessens the grey areas and discussion points.

Henry should never have been expected to make a 'sportsmanlike' decision after the goal and it's unfair for Fifa to make an example of him.

Blatter can push for 'fair play' all he likes, but he should not expect it as he does not seriously encourage it.

It was a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't for Henry.

It's all part of the beautiful game.

Al Jazeera
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