Soccer is not the only sport to be suffer this kind of exploitation; indeed, all sports have been tainted to some degree of another. But soccer is the game that dares to call itself beautiful. No other, as far as we know, claims such an exalted title.
Well, the higher you aspire to the farther you are going to fall when you trip yourself up.
And soccer fell on its face last week. Bit time.
And we’re not just talking about the Thierry Henry double handball, the two French players offside, the gambling racket, or the riots following the playoff game between Algeria and Egypt.
Before even the Stade de France follies there was FIFA’s decision to seed teams for World Cup playoffs, a move clearly aimed at making sure, as far as possible, that big name teams from the bigger countries did not collide on the way to the World Cup finals in South Africa next year.
The Republic of Ireland, despite the passion it brings to the game, the enthusiasm and good reputation of its fans, and the fact that the Irish always bring a healthy dose of emotional drama to the bigger stage, is not a big country with a big team, a big television market, and the ability to buy huge amounts of what sponsors of the World Cup want to sell.
So the cards were stacked against Ireland to begin with.
Be that as it may, Ireland could well have beaten France. Giovanni Trapattoni’s men clearly had the measure of the French in the second leg after going down to a single goal in Croke Park, a score resulting from a deflection off an Irish boot.
Enter Thierry Henry, though he is not the only villain of the piece, not by a long shot. The circumstances of the French “goal” are well known at this stage as is the woeful input of the Swedish match officials. And we all know how soccer authorities are disinclined to bring replay technology to bear, this for reasons that can be left up to the imagination.
But as Irish golfer Padraig Harrington rightly pointed out, it was the actual on-the-spot celebration of cheating that really dragged this incident far down in the basement of sporting travesties.
What would have been ideal, if we may be so bold, is that amid all the uproar the French authorities ignored FIFA and offered a replay. At this point the Irish authorities might have demurred, allowed for a forfeit and wished the French bon voyage and bon chance in South Africa.
Such an honorable exchange would have visibly put FIFA where it belongs, and where it sits anyway – and that is in the sin bin of shame.