Note to Thierry Henry: it’s football, not handball

Oh Thierry Henry, what did you have to go and do that for? You, of all people. Despite being a life-long Spurs supporter, I have always been a great fan of yours; you were one of those rare and special footballers it was always such a pleasure to watch, no matter which team you played for. One of those players who, despite all the greed and arrogance in modern football, made me remember why I fell in love with the Beautiful Game in the first place.

But then, in a crucial World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland last week, you did a Maradona, and the poor old Republic unfairly went crashing out after neither referee nor linesmen spotted your blatant handball. And blatant it was too. Quite ridiculously so. You even compounded the offence with your comments after the game: “It was necessary to exploit what was exploitable”, you said, as if that somehow justified what was, without question, cheating. How could you?

However, Henry’s out-of-character double handball is not the first instance of blatant cheating in sport this year. In some cases, this cheating has just been childishly sad, as with the deliberate F1 crashes, while in others it has veered towards out-and-out fraud, as with the outrageous and notorious Harlequins ‘Bloodgate’ incident (and what with Quins being the rugby union side I support, this scandal made me particularly angry), and the recent Champions League match fixing arrests.

It is difficult to know how to remedy such examples of dishonesty, because if sportsmen and women – as with pretty much anyone else in any walk of life, unfortunately – think that there is the slightest possibility they might get away with it, they’ll try to do just that.

But with situations like that of Thierry Henry last week, there is a solution. It’s just that the footballing authorities, as usual, aren’t interested in it, despite the fact that it has been proven to work in other sports. FIFA and UEFA have their collective fingers in their collective ears, and are loudly singing “LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU” at anyone who mentions it. And they’ve been doing this for years now.

The solution is really quite obvious, to me, anyway: use video technology. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy-schmancy, but had there been even basic video technology in place last week, the on-pitch referee could have quite simply stopped the game (and stopped the clock) when the Irish players protested, then asked the video referee to have a quick look at the incident. It would have taken a matter of moments to reach a decision before the goal was given or not, as the case may be.

There are those who would argue that introducing video refs into football would disrupt the flow of the game. I can understand their concern to an extent, but they’re wrong. Yes, football is a fast game, a game of movement, but video refereeing needn’t disrupt that. For a start, the vast majority of the incidents it would be used for would be goal-related, or foul-related, when the game stops anyway. No flow to stop there.

And it has been proven that video refereeing does not disrupt the flow of one of the fastest games around. Rugby League has used the video ref system for some years now, and it works. If you’ve ever been to a Rugby League game, you’ll have seen the system in action, and you’ll know that it takes just moments for the video ref to make a decision and communicate it to the referee on the pitch. In fact, the fans’ brief, breathless wait for the decision to be made and to flash up on the scoreboard is actually half the fun of it – I can see that going down a storm in football.

And it must also be pointed out that the same system works well in Rugby Union, a slower game with more natural stops and starts than football or Rugby League, and a game with a strong sense of tradition which is less accepting of change than many other sports. If the RU authorities can happily accept the video referee system, why can’t the football authorities?

It’s not as if cost is the issue either. Football is one of the richest sports in the world, and European football is particularly wealthy. The initial investment in the necessary video technology and training for referees would be easily affordable, but it’s not about that, is it? This is all about vested interests, about what the authorities want – not what’s good for the game.

This is all about the outdated attitudes of those who run football, and their arrogant belief that they are right and that they know best. This is all about a bunch of old men (and yes, they are old, and yes, they are all men) who don’t seem to get the value that technology could bring to the game, who don’t seem to get that technology could help prevent the kind of scandals and controversies (like last week’s Henry incident) which go a long way to adding to the dreadful reputation football already has. And maybe that’s in their interests? Or not…

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6 comments

  1. Preston

    This is a simple fix or consequences (depending on how you look at it).

    1) Do not let the referee and two linemen officiate any other World Cup matches until next World Cup.

    2) For the coming games: Allow each coach the opportunity to challenge a play/call (only one per game, regular game and overtime) through “instant replay” and they can only call it when the ball is “out of play” or their own team has possession of the ball (this way you can’t call it when your opponent has possession of the ball).

    Its pretty lousy moving forward this way and since FIFA does not want to fix this injustice they might as well makes changes so this does not happen again (why not use the technology that we have to ensure this does not happen again).

    • trickygirl

      Thanks for your comment Preston. I agree that the referee and linesmen were definitely at fault. I couldn’t believe that they didn’t spot the handball, they seemed to be the only people in the ground who didn’t see it – it was so blatant!

      It would be interesting to see a system in place to allow coaches to make a challenge during a game. A similar system seems to work quite well in tennis, so I don’t see why it couldn’t work in football too. That could have been a helpful idea in situations like this one.

      I very much feel that, in the long run, the best solution would be to introduce the technology to stop this sort of thing happening again – it’s available and it’s been proven to work, but it’s just a matter of persuading FIFA to actually implement it!

    • trickygirl

      Thanks for your kind words Dave! I don’t believe in limiting myself to a niche – anyway, there are so many interesting things out there to write about :)

      I’ve added myself to your community on MyBlogLog, so you can contact me there if necessary. Thanks for your generous guest blog offer, I’d like to know some more details, if at all possible, before I make a final decision (ie: what subject you’re looking for, how long a piece would you want etc.). Thanks again!

  2. Niall Harbison

    It’s a week on and I still feel bad when I even think about it. Ireland has enough to worry about at the moment but we put our heart and soul into that game and such a heartbreaker to get nothing out of it! I agree that Henry is tainted after this although as an Aresenal hater I never really was mad about him in the first place anyway!

    • trickygirl

      Thanks for your comment, Niall. I’m not Irish, but I always like to see them doing well, and my heart went out to you all when I heard what Henry had done. The World Cup just won’t be the same without you guys! As a Spurs fan, I naturally detest Arsenal, but Henry was (although I hate to say it!) a brilliant player in his days at Highbury – but, after this, I will no longer see him in the same light. Interestingly, I have a close family member who is an Arsenal fan, and he’s as appalled at Henry as I am…

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