World Cup Opinion

Giveth With One, Taketh with Another

December 2, 2009
By Andrew Warshaw in Cape Town

Thierry Henry's damaged reputation took another severe battering in Cape Town on Wednesday, but have FIFA missed a trick by making an example of the Barcelona and former Arsenal striker and opening an investigation into his infamous handball?

Sepp Blatter
GettyImagesSepp Blatter: FIFA chief has dismissed Irish appeal

• FIFA to ban Henry, reject extra refs

Henry could technically be banned from the start of the World Cup finals next year after FIFA president Sepp Blatter said his blatant handball against Ireland would go before FIFA's disciplinary committee.

Although a reprimand is the most likely scenario, the committee has the power to impose a match ban that could see Henry miss the start of the finals in South Africa next June. "The disciplinary committee will open a case into the behaviour of Thierry Henry in the match against Ireland," Blatter told a news conference. "It is not a question of it being Thierry Henry or another player. But it was blatant unfair play and was shown all over the world. I am not saying that Thierry Henry will be punished, what I am saying is that he will be examined by the disciplinary committee."

While some will welcome FIFA's decision to deliberately make an example of such a high-profile player in order to send a strong message and discourage such blatant instances of cheating throughout all levels of the game, others will take the view that Henry is simply a victimised scapegoat.

How much more of a long-term benefit would it have been for FIFA to implement some kind of innovation for assisting referees. Sadly Blatter disclosed that there would be no change in the way matches would be officiated at the World Cup next year. The much-touted idea of having two additional referees behind each goal was thrown out at the extraordinary meeting of the FIFA executive committee, called so hastily that it had raised hopes for genuine action to improve fair play. False hopes as it turned out.

The system of two additional officials is currently being trialled by UEFA in the Europa League this season but simply could not be risked at the World Cup, said Blatter who offered only a glimmer of hope for change. "We shall have a look at technology and additional referees, but for the time being the experiments in the Europa League will go on but for the World Cup, there will be no change in refereeing."

One giant backward step. Talk about giving with one hand and taking away with another. And to complete a typically bizarre day even by Blatter's reputation for inconsistency, he was forced to apologise to the Irish FA for having revealed they had asked for an unprecedented 33rd berth in South Africa after a replay with France had been ruled out.

Apparently it was supposed to have been a private meeting though Blatter willingly spilled the beans at the globally followed Soccerex conference in Johannesburg earlier this week.

"I regret what I created by what I said and I'm sorry about the headlines," he said, blaming the press for misinterpretation. "The Irish were very sporting people when they came to see us at FIFA. I'm very sorry about that." As climbdowns go it was cringing stuff from the man who represents 208 national federations. You couldn't make it up.