IT’S finally case closed on Thierry Henry’s ‘Hand of Gaul’ – at least as far as Irish football is concerned.
But, following yesterday’s emergency meeting of FIFA in Cape Town to discuss the fallout from Ireland’s play-off against France and other issues, attention will finally focus on the 32 teams who go into tomorrow’s draw for the finals next summer.
Ireland, of course, are not among them. Instead, the final flurry of verbal punches and licking of wounds took place yesterday, with FIFA president Sepp Blatter apologising for his remarks on Monday which prompted laughter at Ireland’s expense and FAI chief executive John Delaney saying the world governing body had been the big losers in the saga.
“Obviously we’re not going to the World Cup and we’ve got to move on from that, for sure,” said the FAI boss. “We’ve got a lot to look forward to next year with the opening of the Aviva Stadium and the draw in February for the Euros.
“The French have had a difficult time out of it, with Henry and the way they’ve qualified. But I would say FIFA, in my opinion, have become the biggest losers because changing the seeding rules, as they did, was a big mistake and I think they’ve recognised that. But also I think the whole game has been affected by the imagery of Henry’s goal and how FIFA dealt with that matter, how Blatter dealt with it on television on Monday in terms of (breaking) the confidentiality of a meeting.
“They seem to have made one mistake after another and I think they should reflect on that.”
Referring to Blatter’s jocular version of his meeting with the FAI, Delaney told RTÉ radio: “It was inappropriate and it was disrespectful to our country. It was a confidential meeting we had last Friday, everybody agreed that it would be a confidential meeting.
“And the suggestion about a 33rd team or an extra team playing at the World Cup was very much peripheral to the conversations that took place. There was an hour and a half of a meeting and I think that was discussed maybe for a minute or two within the hour and a half. And there were far more substantial issues discussed.
“What he chose to do was breach confidentiality in a way that suited him – in an a la carte fashion – and I was disappointed that a president of FIFA would behave in such a way.
“I have spoken to his general secretary, Jerome Valcke, about it and I gather that Blatter has apologised. And he should do because he insulted us as a country.”
In reference to that press conference at which he revealed that the FAI had asked for Ireland to be accommodated as an extra team at the World Cup, Blatter’s apology yesterday seemed to place the emphasis more on the amused reception given his remarks rather than the remarks themselves
“I would like to express my regrets to a wrong interpretation of what I said and, to the FAI, and I’m sorry about the headlines going around the world,” said Blatter.
Blatter’s comments came after the FAI had notified FIFA they were formally withdrawing their request for a 33rd place at the World Cup finals to be considered at yesterday’s emergency meeting of the Executive Committee in Cape Town. As a result, the matter did not come up for discussion during the meeting, although other proposals put forward by the FAI did. Those proposals were revealed before the meeting in a statement from Abbotstown which also included some hard-hitting criticism of the FIFA president.
The statement from Abbotstown said: “The FAI has already clarified that this matter was peripheral, was not raised in any of its formal written submissions to FIFA, and was explored only fleetingly as part of a wide-ranging 90-minute discussion with that body. Regrettably the matter appears to have been singled out in public by Mr Blatter despite his assurances the meeting would remain private.
“Instead of diverting attention, we would prefer Mr Blatter uses this opportunity to deal with the issues which have been raised formally for the benefit of football worldwide.”
The FAI went on to make the following suggestions:
“1) Ensure that FIFA’s rules cannot be changed midway through a tournament, for whatever reason, commercial or otherwise.
“2) Introduce video technology for matches at the highest level which has been resisted for too long and which would have avoided the error that led, in part, to today’s meeting.
“3) Implement additional goal-line assistant referees for all FIFA international matches.
“4) In future, introduce stronger sanctions for players involved in match-defining breaches of the Laws of the Game.
“5) Issue a clear statement that FIFA does not condone breaches of the Laws of the Game. For a man in Mr Blatter’s position to empathise with someone who scored a goal by cheating is inappropriate.”
And the statement concluded: “The FAI raised these matters only so that the likelihood of such incidents recurring be reduced and now leaves their consideration in the hands of football’s world governing body.”
As it turns out, FIFA’s immediate decision was, in essence, to postpone making any decision. Following yesterday’s emergency meeting, Blatter revealed that proposals such as extra match officials and the use of video technology have been parked for further consideration and will definitely not be used in South Africa.
However, although the FAI had not asked for action to be taken against Henry, FIFA have left the matter open by opting to refer the player’s handball in the Paris play-off to the body’s disciplinary committee. Blatter also revealed he has spoken to Henry about the incident and its fallout.
Asked why FIFA were making a special case of Henry when so many players commit handball offences, Blatter said: “This is a matter of the disciplinary committee and it’s not a question of this player or another – it was blatant unfair play and was shown all around the world, but I don’t know what the outcome will be.
“I have not said that Thierry Henry will be punished, I have said that Thierry Henry will be examined by the disciplinary committee of FIFA.”
On the question of introducing ‘umpires’, Blatter said the World Cup finals would come too soon to allow the inclusion of the system currently on trial in the Europa League.
“The experiments with the Europa League shall go on into the knockout stages next year but it has been decided for the World Cup there is no change in the refereeing: one referee, two assistants and a fourth official.”
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