What Is It With France and Bad Officiating?

by Kevin Jon Heller

I haven’t irritated OJ purists by blogging about (international) sports for a while, so I think it’s only appropriate to point out that, for the second time in two years, the French have stayed alive in a World Cup only by the grace of pathetic officiating.  The most recent outrage comes courtesy of soccer (being American, I refuse to call it football), where France defeated Ireland and advanced to the 2011 World Cup because four referees missed French striker Thierry Henry’s blatant use of his hands not once but twice on the pass that led to France’s go-ahead goal.  Ireland is in mourning and — rightly — calling for a replay of the match, which would have gone to a penalty shootout had all four referees not chosen an opportune time to stop watching the match.

It’s bad enough that the Irish, with their lovely accents, are deprived of a chance to go to the World Cup.  Even worse, referees also handed the French a victory over my beloved All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, during the 2007 World Cup.  The All Blacks lost to France 20-18 because the referee, Wayne Barnes, refused to call a ridiculously obvious forward pass on the game-winning try.  So hated is Barnes in New Zealand that his name has entered the Kiwi lexicon as a way to describe being unfairly screwed over: “you’ve been Barnsed.”

Camille Paglia once wrote that we should ignore France’s views on international affairs until it proves it can win a war without anyone’s help.  I think that’s more than a little unfair, but the corollary certainly holds true: we shouldn’t take France’s international teams seriously until they prove they can win without the help of bad referees.


17 Responses

  1. A few years ago one of my LLM students, a senior law counselor from a country I can’t now recall which in Africa, came to me looking for assistance because, on account of some kind of bad athletic call, her boss, the Minister of Justice, had decided to seek remedies at the ICJ.  I think I did the right thing by providing some gentle discouragement?

  2. The Irish justice minister has already, in his non-official capacity of course, suggested that this idea of a replay isn’t such a bad idea.

    As for th 2007 RWC, I’ve seen every second of the final stages of that tournament, and I can’t say that I remember the forward pass you’re talking about. As far as I can remember, the French won fair and square, just like the Wallabies did in the 2003 semis.

  3. Martin,

    If you don’t believe me, believe the IRB: its review found three serious mistakes were committed by the referees, all of which went against the ABs:

    Referee Wayne Barnes made at least three serious errors that went against the All Blacks late in the World Cup quarterfinal against France, an International Rugby Board (IRB) panel has found.

    France scored the winning try from a forward pass and committed at least two other two offences that could have been penalised, the IRB referees’ selection panel found.

    The All Blacks lost 18-20, for their worst finish at a World Cup.

    IRB referees’ manager, New Zealander Paddy O’Brien, said the panel still gave Barnes a pass mark and reiterated he did not cost the All Blacks the game.

    O’Brien said a review of Englishman Barnes and touch judges Jonathan Kaplan and Tony Spreadbury, found a series of wrong calls against the All Blacks.

    A successful penalty would have been enough to win the match for the All Blacks, but Barnes did not award one penalty against France in the second half.

    Barnes’ has come under close scrutiny, particularly his performance late in the match in which the All Blacks – desperate for points – retained the ball for more than 25 consecutive phases.

    An examination of that period by international media has shown repeated offences by the French which went unnoticed and unpunished by match officials.

    The New Zealand Rugby Union has criticised Barnes, describing some of his decisions as “very, very questionable” and saying his performance had a major impact on the outcome.

    O’Brien, a former New Zealand policeman and test referee, has consistently supported Barnes, saying while he made mistakes he could not be held responsible for the All Blacks’ defeat.

    “Wayne’s game’s been (reviewed) by all four selectors and myself, probably under more scrutiny than any other game due to the interest in it,” O’Brien told Radio Sport today.

    “There were errors made. There was a scrum turnover not given in the first half that should have been.

    “There was clearly the forward pass that was missed by all three officials and, at the end of the day, with Wayne being the referee he must take responsibility for that.

    “There were two calls, one with a hand in the ruck and one with offside at a ruck in the last 10 minutes, which the touch judge should have given him.

    The penalty count in the game was 10-2 against the All Blacks with no penalties against the French in the second half, despite the ABs dominance in possession and territory.

  4. To make a connection to OJ, one headline I saw read: “Henry Wanted for Crimes Against Ireland”

  5. Henry and another player were also offsides, to top it off.

    You might also add the 2000 European Championships against Italy where the referee gave something like 13 minutes of extra time, when much less was called for, and announced.

  6. At least one monumental blunder certainly counted against the All Blacks – they were born kiwi.

    Oh, wait, that only counted against a few of them…

    More seriously, there is not much point caring about the quality of refeering in football. As long as they don’t adopt video referees they are making it quite clear that mistakes are part of the game, whether or not paid for.

  7. Ok, I’m half-Irish, half-French, but i’ll be speaking in my French capacity today…
    As much as I’m ashamed to be going to the world cup after this ridiculous goal, I think this shouldn’t be blown out of proportions. If Robbie Keane hadn’t missed a golden opportunity a few minutes earlier, the Henry goal would not have mattered (and if Ireland had not screwed up twice against Italy in the group stages, they would have been directly qualified). From a legal point of view, the Irish are not “rightly” demanding a rematch. It is not an option under FIFA regulations…

    As for the 2007 world cup, there was indeed a forward pass. But France did outplay NZ over the match. Face it, Kevin, the All Blacks have a long history of screwing up in the final stages of a World Cup (and often against France…).

    As far as wars are concerned, I think pots and kettles calling each other black when you look at history… but let’s stay out of this debate…

  8. Kevin,

    Thanks for the empathy with the recent tragic events which have befallen Ireland. Although based on the reactions in the pub on Wednesday, most of us appear to use our ‘lovely accents’ best when hurling deeply emotional and wildly inventive compound-noun swearwords at goateed Swedish men. And Dov, right you are to be ashamed! I’ll concede that Robbie Keane should have wrapped it up with that chance in the second half, but he did score the beautiful first goal so he can’t be the villain. Thierry Henry, on the other hand, lolloping around the six-yard box with his massive cheating hands and his razor-sharp volleyball instincts, absolutely can.

    As I said in the pub the other night, the actual qualification outcome was the one anyone would happily have bet on when the initial draw was announced, but it was the sheer eye-watering injustice of it that has the whole country in mourning. Based on the relative quality of the squad, France should have absolutely leathered us – twice. Score 2 or 3 in both legs: grand. Beat us on penalties after a heroic Irish effort to take it to extra time: we’d have learned to cope. But there’s something very wrong when the best France could manage in 210 minutes of play against a team like Ireland was 1) a scuttery deflected goal that hit a defender and the post on the way in, and 2) an invalid shambles involving two offsides and a double handball. Before kick-off we would have been happy to submit to the law of conquest, but after this I don’t know who I can even bring myself to support in the World Cup. Maybe Algeria….

  9. Well the world is divided into two types of people – the French who are civilized and the rest of us who are human.  So there.  Once you understand that, life is much easier. On to the World Cup!

  10. I think that I read somewhere that Henry’s moral model is Lance Amstrong, the American who never cheated, but admitted in an arbitration that he won 7 times the Tour de France dopped like a horse …

    Or was that Marion Jones he was referring to …?

  11. Oh wait, I found the quote. Henry said: “I apologize to all Americans for being so immoral. I wish I was André Agassi.”

  12. And he just added: ” I did not dislike Floyd Landis, actually”

  13. Henry’s wife, howerer, has a different opinion: “Thierry, you really should not have done that, but you are still an amateur compared to Tonya Harding” 

  14. Dov,

    It is an option — FIFA ordered a replay of the Bahrain-Uzbekistan game in 2006 because the referee misapplied the penalty rules.  Sure, you can argue that there is a difference between misapplying a rule and missing an obvious call, but such formalism seems to have no point other than to avoid replaying the Ireland-France match.  (Or at least ordering a shoot-out.) FIFA has ordered a replay before; it should do so again. And something tells me it would if it was a soccer power, not a soccer “minnow,” that was on the wrong end of the score.

    You’re right about the ABs’ sorry World Cup history.  And yes, France played very well.  But the ABs were not outplayed — any fairly-called game (and don’t get me started on the ridiculous sin-binning of the AB that handed France one of its tries) would have resulted in a comfortable AB victory.  10-2 in penalties?

  15. You mean to argue they should play the game again? Where would be the justice in that?!

    Perhaps the result in this particular instance is bad, but all sports-rivalry based nation-hating aside, there are fundamental and principled characteristics present in this situation that would make replaying the match an egregious breach of both the legal and sporting ethics.

    (And by the way, American or not, the proper lingo is always, always football, pitch, match, etc.).

    According to pertinent official FIFA rules; the statutory authority; the binding provisions promulgated by the supreme and overarching international governing body of  of Association Football, to whose jurisdiction of all parties have consented:

    “The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final. ”

    “The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.”

    The rules are plain: The referee decided that there was no handball. He terminated the game. He can no longer change his decision. The call is final, binding.

    There is precedent, for replays: a handfull of instances where the result of a FIFA match was nullified, and subsequently replayed to determine the official outcome.  But these instances are distinguishable, they all included some type of active interference – e.g. weapon brandishing fans; tie-matches after stoppage time, overtime, shoot-outs, lighting equipment malfunctions. And even for referee misconduct… but only where the  referees’ decisions directly affected the ultimate outcome of the match, e.g.  blew the whistle and actually made  miscalls, fouls that set up penalty kicks that gave one team the go-ahead late in the match. What we saw in the FRA-IRE match was a non-call, an omission. Culpable, yes, because a referee has breached an affirmative duty to uphold and enforce FIFA’s rules, but less culpable than actively interfering to directly influence a match. The situation in this game is clearly distinguishable from prior precedent and thus authorizing the replay of such a high-stakes match is unjustifiable.

    But, then again, in most major sports, in AMERICA at least, we’ve got INSTANT REPLAY! (Incidentally, in the wake of all this hubbub, the MLS, America’s professional ‘soccer’ league, has called for implementing an instant replay regime.) Why shouldn’t FIFA adopt replay too? Isn’t it more fair? Isn’t that better?

    First of all, from a traditional standpoint consider international custom. Is football not “the beautiful game”? In fact it is.

    Football, the FIFA brand of it in particular, represents a global culture featuring a prominent sportsmen’s culture and a governing ethic that are committed to preserving the traditions of the game.

    The use of replay is pervasive in American professional sports: Baseball, basketball, hockey, all use it in some limited capacity, and American-football utilizes replay almost ad nauseum. The institution of instant replay may fit in some sports, but it arguably has no place in the tradition-oriented game of World-football.

    If you instituted replay for handballs in football, then what next? Would you stop play to review each time a well defended player performs a momentum-changing, foul-inducing flop? Absolutely not! Doing so would spoil a fundamental premise of the football game.

    Football matches last 90+ min divided into two continuously played 45 minute havles; impressive compared to 60 minute clocks America uses for prof basketball and football. Granted American football and basketball games don’t surprise when they last past the 1.5 hour mark. In fact they usually do, but that’s largely due to constant clock-stoppages. A good baseball game might last for a quarter-day, and cricket matches have lasted days-on-end. But these games lack the constant game-play that typifies a good football match. Besides, it’s almost inarguable that any all-star in a given MLB dugout could match the speed, stamina, and finesse of a  professional international footballer. Again, though replay can operate functionally some instances in certain sports, football and those games are simply too fundamentally different. Replay would spoil the customary version of the world’s game almost beyond recognition. From a traditionalist perspective, replay would simply spoil the way the world loves to play, and watch, football. Mechanically enforced forms of justice have their place elsewhere in more sterile venues of world sport. Keep it out of football. Keep the game beautiful.

    Alternatively, even assuming FIFA adopted a more progressive view in the future and did allow for more expansive grounds for replaying matches, or implemented an instant replay going forward, fundamental principles of legality would prevent prescribing this law backward in time to effect any match decided before the promulgation of the new policy.

    Forcing a replay in this instance might seem more fair, and it might truly  be, but it would also be truly unjust.

    At the end of the day, this issue may be resolved simply: Analyzed as a contract, statute or treaty. The FIFA rules as they are, are the rules of the sport by which France and Ireland each willingly agreed to play their match. Ireland likely received the ‘illicit’ benefit of  a referee’s unredressed miscall at some point prior in the game, that is the nature of the game. They can’t cry foul now that they’ve ended up disadvantaged by the rules they knew well ahead of time and agreed abide.

    Ireland was always aware of the implicated rule. As was France. It would work a serious injustice to France to say that the rules should be unilaterally changed to deprive them of a win and a World Cup berth, and require them to play an unauthorized match to satiate Ireland’s complaints. Further, though Ireland’s players, coaches, and fans would give anything for a forced replay here, but could they live with the offense to the traditional que sera sera attitudes of the game? Nor would implementing instant replay review be worth, to them or to the rest of the world, the undoubted long-term deleterious effects that instant replay on the quality of the game of football in the future.

    In the name of the [beautiful] game, and in the interests of avoiding the global-scale injustice of offending the nature of the world’s sport, the call in must stand (even if FIFA changes its rules in the future).

  16. “Sportsmen’s tradition” = getting to the World Cup by using your hands and then not calling yourself on it.  Got it.

    “Serious injustice” = requiring France to earn its place in the World Cup by winning a game, not by cheating. Check.

    Soccer players are indeed amazing athletes.  Almost, but not quite, as amazing as those who play Aussie Rules Football, a vastly superior game.

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