By Ian Moriarty
France’s Secretary of State for Sport, Rama Yade, has added fuel to the fire in the Thierry Henry “hand of god” saga by publicly backing the under-fire French captain.
The 32-year-old’s blatant extra-time handball has caused a furore in France with the controversy dominating the airwaves since the early hours of Thursday morning.
Henry’s “main de Dieu,” as l’Equipe called it, may have helped France to reach the World Cup finals in South Africa next year but it appears that a huge percentage of the French population have turned against the former Arsenal player.
Radio talk shows were inundated with angry callers claiming that Henry had “embarrassed France” and that the player “had disgraced the French jersey with his cheating”.
Some callers to the RTL l’Equipe radio station called for a boycott of goods that used the player’s image.
One caller went so far as to say that he wouldn’t mind seeing France thrown out of the World Cup and replaced with the Republic of Ireland.
But Senator Yade disagreed, saying there was no proof that Henry had cheated on purpose.
“I don’t think we can talk about cheating,” she said. “You can’t exactly know where the ball is and where it’s going to go. Besides, the referee saw nothing.
“Thierry Henry knows himself that he touched the ball. Only he knows if he did it on purpose. So we can’t say if he did it on purpose or not and we can’t talk about cheating.”
She added: “We cannot swear with certainty that he deliberately tried to cheat.”
Yade, who at 32, is one of the youngest serving cabinet ministers in Europe, said that she believed Henry should be judged on his actions over the length of his career and not just on one match.
“I don’t believe that a player of his calibre, with his experience and his record, alongside the number of selections he has for the French team and his love of the game, that he is a man of unsporting conduct.”
Daniel Cohn-Bendit of the Green Party, agreed with Yade and insisted that Henry “had done his job.”
“It’s not cheating,” said Cohn-Bendit adding, “football is like that.”
Senator Cohn-Bendit did say however that France’s victory in the playoffs was “completely unmerited”.
Speaking on RTL, another Government minister, Roselyne Bachelot, had strong words for France coach Raymond Domenech.
“We really need [the French players] to recover,” said Bachelot, who is the Minister for Health and Sport. “One has to say that they lacked air yesterday.”
Then, addressing Domenech directly, she said: “You really have to work at this if you want to take them to South Africa.”
Bachelot added that the under-fire French boss was not on a path of roses.
“I feel I have to say: Raymond, you really have to get going and get the guys going because we, the French, are very worried and disappointed.”
French television station TF1 recorded its second highest viewing numbers of 2009, with 11.7 million viewers tuning in for the World Cup playoff decider at the Stade de France.