Firstly, let me apologise for the racism in the title, and assure you that it has a purpose.
Secondly, let me note how amazed I am that you are reading a post that I have written about any sport, let alone soccer. I do not follow the sport, nor enjoy watching it, and very often have no clue as to what teams are facing each other on any given day. That said, I share in the national anger that has accompanied the tarnished French victory. I feel sorry for my friends and family who are enraged and jaded by the successful cheating of the French, and I cannot help but feel that enjoying some World Cup success, even for a short while, would have done this battered country much good.
This is why I feel that the match must be replayed. If we lose, then people will still complain, blaming the handball for robbing us of our original victory, but at least we will have experienced a fair game. Should we win, then I do believe Ireland will experience a temporary vigour, and be allowed to place its difficulties to one side, for however short a time. Unfortunately, we appear to be sabotaging even the slim chance we have of being granted a rematch.
Before I address the issue of how we might obtain a rematch, let me say that I am putting aside right and wrong here. We are in the right; we have been wronged. However, “would’ve and should’ve don’t build a bridge”, or alternatively “I didn’t make the world, I just try to live in it”. No-one, anywhere, denies that we have been wronged, but that does not mean that this will be remedied. If we wish to take advantage of our small chance of a second chance, then we need to discard our emotions and think of how we can maximise the chances of a rematch being granted.
The first thing to acknowledge is that FIFA do not want to grant a rematch. Were they a neutral body, they would be strongly inclined against the uncertainty that would arise from matches being replayed due to cheating. As hard as it is to admit, most matches involve cheating, and while the outcome of very few turn so obviously on that cheating, if a tradition was set that matches were replayed where cheating may have affected the outcome of the match (in terms of points or in terms of who won or lost), then the tournament would rapidly decline to a farce. Unfortunately, FIFA are not neutral. They have a strong preference, powered by self-interest, towards French participation in the cup. The far greater population of France, accompanied by its larger market for goods, and better economic climate, make it a far more profitable country than Ireland, from the perspective of the organisation. There is also a perception that more people outside France would be interested in seeing a country as large as France play, than in seeing Ireland play.
If the above is accepted, then it is obvious that persuading FIFA to change their mind will be difficult, and the chances of success are slim. It is more likely they will admonish the French team, and call for a small punishment to be applied to Thierry. This will be a futile and empty gesture. However, it is possible that they may be persuaded to allow a rematch.
Economically, we have no leverage in this situation. Any boycott of French goods will be temporary and pointless at best, and any boycott of FIFA will dissolve as soon as England play a match. Even should either be successfully organised (the former for the duration of the cup – an open-ended boycott would be laughable), neither would lead to success, as an loss suffered would be a trifle compared to that which would be lost if Ireland progressed through the cup, and France lost out.
Politically, despite the fighting words of many of our TDs, we have little or no leverage. It is highly likely that the board of FIFA were forced to Google/Wiki Brian Cowen and Dermot Ahern when they first became aware of them, and it is most unlikely that they were impressed once they had. Indeed, it is possible that too-bitter words from our elected representatives, each vying for air-time on this rare issue of national unity, may damage the cause, should they force FIFA into a corner, or create a conflict between the politicians of Ireland and the politicians of France. Already, the French Prime Minister has warned the Taoiseach to not interfere with FIFA, and the matter was discussed between Cowen and Sarkozy. Once again, the larger size and power of France means that we cannot bring certain types of force to bear in regards to this issue, we cannot win a contest based on these powers.
In short, we cannot really force FIFA to order a rematch. Although there is precedent, FIFA’s interests are too strong, and our influence too weak, to force their hand. We have only one real advantage, and it is shrinking rapidly.
At this moment in time, world sympathy is with us. In America, in Canada, in Britain, even in France itself, there is a universal recognition that what occurred when Mr. Thierry slapped the ball was wrong and unfair. Philippe de Villiers’ comment that “Raymond Domenech should express his public regrets and make a gesture of dignity towards Ireland,” are among the gentlest comments that French politicians have made regarding the French team’s ‘victory’. Universally, it is acknowledged that what happened was wrong, particularly by the French, whose politicians and commentators have rushed to condemn it.
However, the response that this country has produced threatens our chances of ever having this issue rectified.
The only weapon we have is the universal, worldwide sympathy that we currently enjoy: the wave of global popular opinion which we now ride. This is being slowly eroded by the ugly, whining and racist comments that are coming from some quarters. Already, the Times (the English one) has featured several snide remarks about the Irish wallowing in self-pity, and these will only increase in number as shrill press releases are shot off by TDs looking for press coverage, and the government attempt to take hold of the issue, trying to show leadership. The vox-pops that have occurred over the past few hours have all featured racist slurs against the French, from the cheeky joke in the title, to the humourous “cheese-eating surrender-monkeys”, to the downright nasty “dirty frogs”.
This is an understandable reaction. However, it must be recognised that comments that lower us in the eyes of the world do not help our cause, but instead hinder it. There is no shame in showing outrage at what occurred during the match – it is only right that we do so. Unfortunately, we must temper our reactions, while still highlighting this unfairness (I refuse to use the word injustice), so as to maximise and utilise the literally world-wide sympathy that we now experience, and turn that into support. The message must be sent that what occurred during the match, the victory by blatant and unashamed cheating, undermines soccer, and particularly FIFA, bringing the organisation and more importantly the Cup, into disrepute, not just in Ireland, but around the world. It must be underlined that the confidence of the public is lost when such pivotal cheating is detected, and allowed to succeed. Even if Thierry is punished, it was still a win for France, unless a rematch is granted. The only acceptable remedy is a rematch, allowing both teams to once again test their skills, and compete for their place.
It should be noted, that this will still be unfair on Ireland, who will have to risk the place which they (in honour) already won, and will benefit France, who will have gained by their cheating, a second chance. An offer of a rematch will not be a fair remedy, nor will it undo the harm that was suffered, but it the best possible remedy available. The fact that those who cheated still benefitted from their actions, is not something that can be fixed.
In short and in summary, if we truly want this decision to be overturned, as opposed to just have a good ‘auld rant, we need to capitalise the goodwill of the world, and keep our own hands as clean as possible. It is only by the pressure of the supporters around the world, and the threat of discredidation, that FIFA can be persuaded to grant a rematch.
Update: FIFA have refused to allow a rematch, as was expected. Move along everyone, nothing to see here.