Henry escapes punishment

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ZURICH, January 19 – French captain Thierry Henry escaped being punished for his infamous handball in the 2010 World Cup finals play-off against Ireland, FIFA announced on Monday.France were losing 1-0 to Ireland at the Stade de France on November 18, having won the first leg 1-0, when Henry teed up William Gallas in extra-time for what proved to be the decisive goal after illegally controlling the ball with his hand.

FIFA’s disciplinary committee said, however, that they were powerless to punish the 1998 World Cup-winning striker because their rules forbade them to do so if the original misdemeanour had not been seen by the match officials.

"On December 2, 2009, the FIFA executive committee asked the FIFA disciplinary committee to analyse the handling offence committed by Thierry Henry during the France v Republic of Ireland match on November 18, 2009, and to consider the possible disciplinary consequences," read the statement from the committee.

"At its meeting on January 18, 2010, the disciplinary committee reached the conclusion that there was no legal foundation for the committee to consider the case because handling the ball cannot be regarded as a serious infringement as stipulated in article 77a) of the FIFA disciplinary code.

"There is no other legal text that would allow the committee to impose sanctions for any incidents missed by match officials."

Bernard Escalettes, president of the French Football Federation (FFF), said he hoped this finally drew a line under the episode.

"Thierry Henry not being punished is not astonishing, it is logical," Escalettes told AFP.

"There is nothing in the FIFA rules permitting a punishment, and FIFA are bound by their rules.

"I hope that this is the end of the story, I hope so with all my heart."

The meeting of the 21-man disciplinary panel, an independent body chaired by the Swiss Marcel Mathier, was announced by FIFA president Sepp Blatter in Cape Town on December 2 following an extraordinary executive committee meeting.

"I had a phone conversation with Thierry Henry," said Blatter at the time.

"We didn’t talk about guilty or not guilty. It was a conversation between sportsmen. I didn’t say that he would be punished, I said he’d be the subject of an investigation."

Blatter’s diplomacy can be explained by the lack of precedent regarding retrospective punishments meted out to players.

Any punishment meted out would have been purely a symbolic one as FIFA’s rules do not explicitly address incidents of such a nature and a heavy punishment would have created an unwelcome precedent for world football’s governing body.

Blatter, meanwhile, has raised the possibilty of awarding "moral compensation" to the Irish team.

"That could be a special trophy or a prize, we’ll have to see," he said.

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