Experts query FAI legal action over ‘handball’

Sports law experts have openly queried how any FAI legal action over the French ‘handball’ goal in the 2009 World Cup play-off would have succeeded — despite it resulting in a €5m payment from world governing body Fifa.

Experts query FAI legal action over ‘handball’

Amid more calls for the FAI to publish details of the deal, which was previously covered by a confidentiality agreement with Fifa, world football figures castigated the arrangement.

The president of the German Football Federation Wolfgang Niersbach, said: “It is a joke that they [Fifa] paid this money out to stop the Irish taking them in front of court.”

Even the manager of France on the night of the controversial qualifier — Raymond Domenech — said the payment was “disgraceful” and “unacceptable”.

“If I was an Irish player and I had known that, I would have revolted against my directors,” he said.

“It’s not possible that they might have sacrificed the possibility of a solution to go and play a World Cup for €5m. I hope now that the Irish players, when they learn this, that they demand some of the money because it was their qualification that was at stake. On a sporting level, it’s disgraceful, unacceptable that you might sacrifice that for money.”

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However, speaking on RTÉ Radio, Liam Brady, who was then on the Irish coaching staff, said neither they nor the players had any idea about the deal. The former Ireland midfielder said the revelations over the deal with Fifa were “mind-boggling” but stressed: “Certainly no staff, none of the players knew about it at the time.”

John Delaney’s predecessor as FAI chief executive, Fran Rooney, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the details of the payment needed to be made known and said the idea that a legal action would have been successful was “nonsensical”.

“It puts the FAI in a bad light,” said Mr Rooney. “This is another distraction off the pitch. As regards the legal case itself I don’t think anybody in football would believe we had a strong case. Refereeing decisions in all sports are final. In this case a handball was not given.”

He said the payment should not have been the subject of a confidentiality agreement and the details needed to be “transparent”. He added it now required an “international probe” to get to the bottom of it.

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However, Larry Fenelon, co-founder and managing partner of Leman Solicitors, which specialises in sports law, said of the FAI’s legal threat: “I don’t see it. A lot of people are scratching their heads — legally, where did that challenge arise?”

Mr Fenelon said typically any on-field matters which entered the courts related to misconduct or ill-discipline, rather than the result of a match. He said such a challenge would cause “chaos” in the sporting calendar and that results were usually seen as being “sacrosanct”.

“When you are talking about a legal challenge, it’s hard to see where that would have gone,” he said.

One issue was clarified when a Fifa spokeswoman said the initial figure of $5m (€4.5m) provided had been a mistake due to Fifa conducting its accounting in dollars. She said the payment had been included in its own financial reports.

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