FIFA to make changes after Thierry Henry handball

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The FIFA logo.

FIFA, the world governing body for association football, yesterday announced it was setting up a working group to conduct an inquiry into the introduction of assistant referees and technology into the world game, in the wake of the reactions to the controversial handball committed by French captain Thierry Henry during the 18 November France vs Republic of Ireland qualifying play-off game for the 2010 World Cup.

Yesterday, at the request of FIFA President Sepp Blatter, FIFA held an emergency meeting of its 24 member Executive Committee in Cape Town, to look into various issues which had recently affected the world game, including the Henry handball.

After the meeting, FIFA announced it will set up an inquiry to investigate the introduction of goal line technology and the global experimentation of using additional referee's assistants to officiate during a match, already being trialled in Europe. FIFA did not however take the widely expected action of announcing there would be extra assistants in place for the upcoming 2010 World Cup, stating this was "too soon" to be made possible. Blatter also re-iterated his long-standing opposition to the adoption of video refereeing used in many other sports.

Blatter confirmed yesterday that Thierry Henry would be investigated by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee. Blatter also apologised to the FAI for his handling of their request to become the 33rd team at the 2010 World Cup.

Henry handball incident

There was a worldwide reaction after the Henry handball incident, which was missed by the referee Martin Hansson, with FIFA coming under pressure to make changes to avoid such a recurrence.

Henry's illegal handball had led to the decisive goal being scored in the game by William Gallas, which saw France qualify for the World Cup ahead of the Republic of Ireland. The Irish football federation ("FAI") first called on FIFA and the French for a replay, but this was rejected by FIFA. They later requested to be allowed to be given an extra place at the World Cup.

Yesterday, Blatter appealed to all players and officials that would be appearing in the upcoming 2010 World Cup to observe the principles of fair play. Henry had been criticised for admitting the handball after the game, but not informing the referee at the time.

Refereeing working group

File:2014 FIFA Announcement (Joseph Blatter) 6.jpg

Sepp Blatter in 2007
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

Blatter said of the crisis in refereeing in the world game that:

The committee was of the opinion that we are at a crossroads: where shall we go with refereeing in the future? The game at the highest level is so tense that it is impossible for one referee and his assistants to see everything...The executive committee came to the decision that the referee is not any longer consistent with the quality and the speed of the game, and the interest of television and 32 cameras as we will have in the World Cup

To address these issues, FIFA announced they were going to set up a committee of inquiry to "look at technology or additional persons". Blatter confirmed the inquiry would involve a cross section of FIFA personnel, involving the referee, football, technical and medical committees.

On the subject of assistant referees, FIFA said:

... the Executive Committee expressed its support for the current experiment of including two additional referees behind the goal lines. However, the committee stressed that it would be too soon to implement this new system at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa

Blatter said FIFA was not ignoring the ongoing trials of extra assistant referees, which would continue in the Europa League into the 2010 knock-out stages, but the executive was of the opinion that with these trials only occurring on one continent, any experiment should "be carried out globally" before being adopted in a World Cup, and that the six months remaining until the 2010 World Cup starts was too short a time to prove any such system. The 2010 tournament, to be held in June and July, would instead remain with the normal FIFA appointed officiating team consisting of four officials led by the match referee.

On the issue of what types of technology might be investigated, Blatter confirmed that two companies looking at goal-line technology were due to report to the rule-making International Football Association Board (IFAB) in March. According to AFP, the meeting also 'ruled out' the adoption of the type of video refereeing as used in rugby, cricket and tennis.', while Blatter stated such a system would 'damage the flow' of the game and "take away talking points".

Investigation of Henry

Thierry Henry in 2008, in his club colours of FC Barcelona of Spain

FIFA confirmed the FIFA Disciplinary Committee would "examine the case of Thierry Henry related to the play-off match". Blatter said:

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", but he added "it was a blatant unfair playing and was shown all around the world, but I don't know what the outcome will be, let them make the decision. Fair play must be maintained in our game

No timetable was given for when the Disciplinary Committee, headed by Swiss lawyer Marcel Mathier, might make their decision on Henry. According to the Associated Press, the committee has the 'authority to impose a one-match suspension on Henry, which would take effect at the start of the World Cup in June.' According to the BBC, there was no certainty that Henry would even be banned if found guilty.

Apology to the FAI

After FIFA rejected an Irish request for a replay of the game, the FAI had asked Sepp Blatter to privately raise the issue at the FIFA meeting of whether the Irish could be entered into the 2010 World Cup as a 33rd team. According to the BBC, the FAI 'knew all along that there was very little chance of their request being granted but had decided to make it anyway on principle'. The FAI withdrew it before the meeting, after Blatter made their request public during his opening address of the Soccerex conference in Johannesburg on 29 November. Blatter yesterday apologised to the FAI for how he had handled their request, saying:

In this connection I would like to express my regrets - my regrets to a wrong interpretation of what I have said in the Soccerex. I have only announced they have asked it, but the presence in the Soccerex they don't took it very, I would say, seriously. So I regret what I have created and especially towards the Irish Football Association, I am sorry about these headlines going around the world. Contrary I have nothing against the Irish, they were very sporting people when they came to FIFA and it is a pity that it has been now communicated in this way. Sorry again."