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…