As I was being physically crippled during a squash match last week (albeit on a deferred by 24 hours basis) I was lucky enough to have an opponent who competed with the spirit of that vague notion “fair play”. In past matches I have had the dodgy score-keeping opponent; the opponent who regards the let rule as secondary to the chance to get a blindside tackle in; and the screaming, cursing racquet smasher.
It was the day following France’s qualification for the World Cup courtesy of a neat piece of final moments, illegal control by the team’s skipper, Thierry Henry. The referee did not see it (officials missed an even more obvious offside from the kick that led to it) and – voilà it’s not Guinness but something pétillant all round.
Post-match the line of Raymond Domenech, the French manager and a man who allegedly puts astrology at the centre of his life, was “Let me enjoy this happiness!” Unsurprising for a guy whose reaction to being dumped out of Euro 2008 was to ignore questions about his future as manager and instead thought the moment romantic enough to ask journalist Estelle Denis to marry him. This has done little harm to his standing as a figure of fun:
Lorsque Raymond Domenech perd, il demande la main d’Estelle Denis.
Lorsque Raymond Domenech gagne, il demande la main de Thierry Henry.
But Domenech was right – enjoy it for his team played the system and won. The cast-iron logic was provided by the head of French football and boiled down to “it cuts both ways, that’s how it is, how it has been – and, by the way, accords to the structure in place”.
This is a good defence, one that transcends sport. Precedent is important. So important that, once installed alongside codification, “individual responsibility” becomes an idea of ridicule and “paying the consequences” an acceptable risk. Those are things for a third party to assess and levy.
As the handy Thierry Henry said, “I am not the referee”. It is the professional footballer’s (strangely familiar) Safe Habor statement, a shield and an invitation to deceive.