I'm Irish. OK, I don't sport any shamrock tattoos, and you have to go back to my great, great grandmother to find a relative who was born on the Emerald Isle. But like every Irish-Catholic native of the Bronx with some semblance of ancestral pride, I was plenty peeved about the astounding screwing the Irish soccer team received this week during their World Cup qualifying match against France, when French "superstar" (and 2005 TIME European hero) Thierry Henry illegally used his left hand to corral a ball before passing it onto a teammate for the goal that sent France to the World Cup, and the underdog Irishmen home.
But please, everyone, stop calling for a do-over. That goes for you, Thierry Henry, who on Friday said a replay of the match would be the fairest way to rectify this situation. (Was he being genuine? Who cares?) It also goes for you, Irish soccer association, and all you heartbroken, angry Irish folk from County Mayo to Connaughton's Steakhouse in the Bronx. And it definitely goes for you, knee-jerk anti-French wise guys who still think it's hip to rip the French six years after Freedom Fries were neither hip nor funny. Do-overs belong in the fifth-grade schoolyard. A rematch for a global event like the World Cup could set a disastrous precedent for sports in general.
All athletes make snap decisions to skirt the rules in high-pressure situations. (Where was the global outcry when Michael Jordan pushed off on Utah's Bryon Russell before sinking the game-winning shot of the 1998 NBA Finals?) In this case, I was mad at Henry, but madder at the refs for missing the infraction, and enraged that soccer does not have some kind of replay rule to correct such obvious, easily reparable errors.
But there's a difference between a replay and a do-over, fer crissakes. The next time a figure skating judge gets caught taking a juicy bribe from the Russian mob, should the sequined ladies stick around for the let's-try-this-again Olympics? How about a World Series Game 7 on Christmas Eve, as we keep playing the botched games over and over thanks to atrocious umpiring?
Officiating errors are as old as sports themselves, and the world has survived despite each and every one of them. At the 1972 Olympics, the American basketball team won the gold medal a dozen different times, but the officials inexplicably kept giving the Soviet Union one more chance to complete a last-second, full-court scoring play. The Soviets finally "won," the Americans rightfully refused to accept their silver medals, and the world moved on. The U.S. subsequently enjoyed the greatest sporting moment in its Olympic history, the 1980 Miracle on Ice and then, you know, won the Cold War.
Consider all the positive strides in British-Irish relations since 1986, the year Diego Maradona's similarly illegal "Hand of God" goal knocked England out of the World Cup quarterfinals and propelled Argentina to the championship. Do we now want the Brits bitter that the Irish got their do-over, and they didn't? In 1985, umpire Don Denkinger cost the St. Louis Cardinals a World Series by blowing an obvious call at first base in the bottom of the ninth in Game 6. How did the Cardinal faithful respond to their unholy, unjust loss to their intra-state opponent, the Kansas City Royals? By continuing to be the nicest sports fans on the planet.
Face it, Irish fans: our underdog status against the 1998 World Cup champion, and 2006 second-place finishers, helped ignite the anti-Henry outrage. If a relatively anonymous Irish forward pulled the same stunt to send the French home, he'd probably be lauded as a plucky player who happened to outfox the refs. And say the game was replayed, and Ireland came out and destroyed a distracted French team would that really feel good? If the Henry handball never happened, who's to say France wouldn't have scored a few minutes later? Or won the game, and the World Cup spot, on penalty kicks? Because of the blown call, we'll never know what really should have happened. A brand new match doesn't solve that problem. So let's all move on. Fer crissakes.