Some shame, sure 'mais c'est la vie


FRANCE’S POLITICIANS, pundits and philosophers were drawn into the national debate on l’affaire Henry yesterday as the country grappled with the moral dilemma of qualifying for the World Cup thanks to a disputed win few French fans think was deserved.

Asked about Irish suggestions that Fifa should order a replay, prime minister François Fillon said it was not for the Irish or French governments to interfere in the governing body’s affairs.

“Neither the French government nor the Irish government should interfere in the functioning of the international federation,” said Fillon, who was attending an event in Reims on the theme of equality of opportunity.

“Naturally, the government will do whatever the international federation asks. It’s true that we suffered a lot (on Wednesday) and that we preferred the away leg.”

The press and public were mostly agreed France didn’t deserve to beat Ireland, with 88 per cent of the 97,000 people who had answered Le Monde’s online question, “Did Les Bleus deserve their place at the World Cup?” by 8.30pm yesterday saying no. Of those who took part in a separate Le Mondepoll on reactions to the match, more than half said they felt shame and less than 2 per cent professed to having a sense of joy.

The dubious success divided politicians into those who defended fair play and criticised the manner in which France qualified, and those who stressed the good fortune and opportunism of it all.

Capturing the emotional ambivalence, minister for sport Roselyne Bachelot was torn between “cowardly relief” and “great concern.”

“In an ideal world, the match would have to be replayed,” said the leader of the centrist MoDem party, François Bayrou, who is descended from a Dorgan from Cork and admitted he was not proud of the result. “But the world is not yet ideal.”

There was less of an inner tussle to be detected in the words of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the Greens in the European Parliament. “Thierry Henry’s hand was the height of luck,” he said. “But that’s football.”

Interviewed immediately after the match, President Nicolas Sarkozy sounded similarly untroubled, saying the match was painful “but the main thing is we won”.

That wasn’t how some of the president’s adversaries saw it. “This match was stolen” and manager Raymond Domenech “must express public regret” to Ireland, said Philippe de Villiers, leader of the right-wing Mouvement pour la France. “The moral of this match is that we can cheat as long as we’re not caught.”

Bixente Lizarazu, a World Cup winner in 1998, said the French performance was “catastrophic” and they should bow their heads.

For his part, Jean-Pierre Escalettes, president of the French Football Federation, said he understood Irish frustration but advised them to put it behind them. “You have to take a philosophical approach. Football is played on small details. However, qualification is still beautiful.”

The Socialist Party’s François Loncle compared the team behind the “pyrrhic victory” to Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration. “It’s a little like the government. Despite a few elements of quality, we have a useless team and a manager (and) leader who is loathed by more and more French people.”

The debate has not been confined to politicians and football pundits. Europe 1radio looked to prominent philosopher Alain Finkielkraut to enlighten the public on the moral implications of the controversy. “We are faced with a real matter of conscience,” he suggested. “We certainly have nothing to be proud of.”