“Le Replay”

“Le Replay” – A Logical Examination of Potential Ramifications of a Dangerous Precedent

The FAI have put a motion to FIFA for Ireland’s World Cup playoff with France to be replayed, and Peter Nelis explains the impact such a decision would have on football as a whole.

Art. 12.4 (b) and 14.1 of the Regulations for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, all protests, including those against technical errors committed by referees, are to be decided by the Organising Committee for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. A bureau of the Organising Committee may pass a decision in lieu of the plenary committee in urgent matters.

This is the rule enforced in the September 3rd 2005 game between Uzbekistan and Bahrain in a qualifier for World Cup 2006, and something which many of you may have become familiar with in the past 48 hours. The incident in question came about when, upon encroachment by an Uzbek player into the penalty area while his side were taking a penalty, the referee wrongly gave an indirect free kick to the defending team for the offence, rather than the penalty retake that the rules dictate.

Uzbekistan appealed after the game and FIFA found the grounds of the appeal to be sound – the referee had committed a technical error, and had wrongly enforced the clearly defined rules of the game.

This is not under any circumstances a precedent for a replay in the France v Ireland game from the 18th of November 2009 in the World Cup 2010 Qualification Play-Off, for the simple reason that in this game, the referee and his assistants simply did not see the offence from French striker Thierry Henry. Yes he cheated. Yes he handled the ball. Yes he broke the rules. But the key difference between this and the Uzbek decision was that none of the officials saw the offence, therefore they did not make the wrong call or enforce the rules in an incorrect manner. This means that Art. 12.4 (b) and 14.1 of the Regulations for the 2006 FIFA World Cup had not been broken.

This is plain to see for all who care to look at the case objectively.

However there is still a growing push for a replay based on the fact that Henry, put bluntly, cheated the Irish. This campaign raises more important fears for the future of the game than just the lack of sportsmanship in modern football. The crux of the matter revolves around a simple question: “If we replay this game, where do we draw the line?”

While it may seem like all too obvious a question, many fail to see the can of worms that such a ruling would open. To give a simple example of the cascading effect this could have on the game, we will focus on a single incident in Istanbul on the 25th of May 2005…

Widely regarded as one of the greatest showpiece finals of all time, Liverpool FC came back from a 3-0 half time deficit to force extra time, and ultimately defeat AC Milan on penalties. However, should “Le Replay” come about, wouldn’t the Italians be within their rights to claim that Steven Gerrard’s somewhat controversial spill in the second half to earn the Merseysiders a penalty changed the overall complexion of the match, and ultimately led to Liverpool emerging as Champions League Winners in 2005?

If a successful challenge were to happen, based on a precedent set by Le Replay, Liverpool shouldn’t have taken part in the 2006 competition, as Everton had beaten them to fourth place in the Premier League. The prize money earned by Liverpool in winning the 2005 competition, and from their run in the 2006 competition surely gave them an unfairly earned advantage over their city rivals in following seasons, so wouldn’t Everton have a right to claim they had been cheated too?

Wouldn’t Tottenham Hotspur, who missed out on fourth place in the 2005/06 season, also have reason to complain about the financial windfall bestowed upon Liverpool for their questionably earned (at least based on this new hypothetical precedent) winners’ medals? Wouldn’t Martin Jol, then Tottenham manager, have reason to complain about his ultimate dismissal from his old job? For if Liverpool hadn’t earned all that money from the Champions League, there may have been a good chance that the Londoners would have usurped them in the top four and Jol’s position would have remained safe.

And what of Portsmouth – the 2008 FA Cup winners would eventually lose their manager Harry Redknapp to Spurs in the ultimate fallout of the Jol sacking – wouldn’t they have reason to complain about what may have been the beginning of their downfall both on and off the pitch?

And we haven’t even started into the effect that one incident had on AC Milan…

The fact of the matter is that you simply cannot retrospectively create a new ruling to force a replay based on a referee missing, or being conned by, unsportsmanlike conduct. The Uzbekistan v Bahrain game cannot be used as a precedent in this matter, because it cites a clear FIFA regulation regarding technical error. What happened at Stade de France on Wednesday night was not a technical error, it was a human error – and the bottom line is that if we start replaying games because of human error on the part of the officials, we would be lucky to make it past the first round of games in any competition around the world.

This isn’t to say that FIFA should not use Wednesday’s events as a catalyst to kick-start some serious research into the implementation of video refereeing. For the sake of the future of the game, it’s undoubtedly something that needs to be looked at very closely, but the demands of the Irish fans are simply unreasonable. You cannot retrospectively alter the fabric of the game to the point of tearing because a nation is upset about something which happens week in, week out on football pitches around the world.

Lessons must undoubtedly be learnt, but change must be well thought out and gradual. All a knee-jerk reaction to Henry’s handball could possibly do is destroy the very game everyone wants to protect. Passion is all well and good, but when it gets in the way of logic, then it must be disregarded as the meaningless hyperbole that it is.

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4 thoughts on ““Le Replay”

  1. “Uzbekistan appealed after the game and FIFA found the grounds of the appeal to be sound – the referee had committed a technical error, and had wrongly enforced the clearly defined rules of the game.”

    Funny. The referee in the France – Ireland game also wrongly enforced the clearly defined rules of the game. Instead of awarding a free kick to Ireland, he awarded a goal to France. It’s the same principle.

  2. Not at all Brendan. The referee in the Uzbek case wrongly applied the rules, in the Irish case he didn’t wrongly apply them because he didn’t see the incident in the first place.

    Had he seen the handball and decided that it was okay within the laws of th game, then he would’ve made a technical error

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