Thierry Henry, the World Cup thief


So Thierry the Thief was deep in the merde. Mr. Clean was starting to look as dirty as a lot of other people in soccer.

And as well as the hundreds of million of TV viewers who had seen what he did, there were the people in Adidas and Gillette who had been watching as well. The people who pay him millions because he is Mr. Clean. No wonder he started calling for a replay!

The FAI's response (the organization that runs soccer in Ireland) concentrated on the damage that had been done to "the integrity of the game" before a worldwide audience. The scale of what had happened was different, the FAI said, and required a response from FIFA.

This was certainly true. We are all familiar with the diving and handballs that can be seen now and then in soccer games in professional leagues.

Blatant examples are always punished. But very often there is an element of doubt and referees don't always get it right and everyone accepts that.

But the Henry incident was different. It was a clear and blatant example of a handball. And it happened not in a league but in a vital international match in which a place at the World Cup was at stake.

To make it even more contentious, it allowed a big country like France to rob a small country like Ireland of something that meant so much to the whole of Ireland. And it did so after a heroic display of effort and courage by the Irish team.

In that sense, the FAI's view that this was on a different scale was correct. Goliath had stomped on David. FIFA, already a suspect organization, was again exposed as caring little about the smaller nations.

Even worse was the fundamental question being asked in many Irish homes that night by kids who had been sitting there in their Irish shirts watching the game on TV. How could this be allowed? How could somebody cheat like that and get away with it?

How could Ireland be put out of the World Cup like that? It was unfair!

Like a lot of dads all over Ireland that night, I struggled to find an answer. The thing is, there isn't an answer, other than that soccer is a beautiful game but a rotten sport.

FIFA's response that the referee's decision must stand shows that the rules are just as much in need of urgent reform as FIFA itself. The truth is that FIFA wants the big nations at the World Cup and does not care if little nations have to be trampled on to make this happen.

Here's one suggestion -- make video refereeing with instant replay a part of all World Cup games. FIFA says it is against the introduction of this (even though it is common in so many other sports) because small countries could not afford it. The answer is that the technology can be provided, at least for World Cup qualifier matches.

And if FIFA won't go that far, here's another suggestion -- have the TV coverage of all World Cup qualifier games reviewed by a FIFA committee the day after they are played and in the cases like Henry the Hand ban the player from the World Cup finals.

If that had been in place last Wednesday, there is no way Thierry the Thief would have cupped the ball the way he did.