Tempest over Thierry Henry's handball in Ireland-France soccer match: Get over it.
Irish fans should give up their hopes of a rematch and simply accept, no matter how much it hurts, that France won by breaking the rules.
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Some psychologists even believe that Ireland's loss delivered a "psychic shock" to the Irish people, making them think they are "perpetually doomed to failure." Soccer pundits and officials are using the Henry incident as an argument for changing some of the rules of the game and introducing video-replay equipment so that referees can rewatch controversial moments and make "fairer decisions."Skip to next paragraph
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This has all gone officially too far. I am as gutted as every other fan of Ireland over what happened last Wednesday. But the obsession with the Henry Handball, the transformation of it into a diplomatic, psychic, and existential incident, threatens to harm soccer – what we Europeans refer to as "the Beautiful Game" – far more than what Henry himself did.
Yes, Henry touched the ball with his hand, which is forbidden in soccer. Yes, if the referee had seen it happen he would have disallowed Gallas's subsequent goal and given Ireland a free kick to restart the game. But he didn't see it, and Henry got away with it. And that's life. Or as the French say: c'est la vie. In a sport such as soccer – a speedy, quick-witted, sometimes rough game, where it's simply impossible for the ref to see everything – we have to accept that every now and then rule-breaking, and even a little bit of cheating, will occur.
Indeed, in relation to the Henry Handball, the better thing – both morally and sports-wise – is to accept what happened and move on. We now have a situation when the Irish fans' (understandable) feeling of grievance, and Irish politicians' high-level campaigning, threatens to damage soccer way more than Henry did. If there was to be a rematch on the basis of the referee's bad decision, which is unheard of in European soccer, then that would open the door to endless demands for replaying controversial games.
Every time there was a hint of a handball, or a goal being scored by a player who was "offside," or a foul that the referee failed to see, then players and fans would demand that the game be replayed. Nothing would ever be final. No one could ever really "win" in a climate in which a game could be staged again at the merest hint of controversy.
And in soccer, as in so many other highly competitive team sports, finality is crucial; the declaration of a winner is of the utmost importance. Restaging this game – a remote possibility, as appeals have been officially rejected – would set a dangerous precedent, turning soccer into a bear pit of postmatch accusations and demands for replays in which no one would ever be sure who the winner is.
Also, introducing video-replay equipment would make soccer duller. Such equipment might be well suited to sports that frequently stop and start – like tennis, cricket, or American football or baseball – but it has no place in a fiery, fast-paced game like soccer. Having to wait for the ref to rewatch every disputed moment would diminish the players' focus and the soccer experience for us spectators.
No, we simply have to accept, however much it hurts, that France won by breaking the rules. Accepting that and moving on is a small price to pay for keeping the game of soccer – with all its speed, emotion, and unpredictability – intact.