Inappropriate Touch Offends European Sports Fans

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France and Ireland are at war! Not on the battlefield, on the football pitch. A hand touched the ball during a soccer match and started a dispute that's resonating throughout the sport. Host Scott Simon gets NPR's Tom Goldman to tell us more.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up: I don't think I can tell you. First, time for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: (French spoken) - France and Ireland are at war. Not on the battlefield, thankfully, but on the football pitch. The Hand of Gaul, it's being called, that led to a goal that put France into the World Cup.

NPR's Tom Goldman is here to tell us this story. Tom, morning.

TOM GOLDMAN: Bon jour, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: And also to you. So - see how fluent we both are? So what happened?

GOLDMAN: Wednesday, in a game versus Ireland, France qualified for next year's World Cup on a goal that shouldn't have been allowed. French team Captain Thierry Henri, who some may remember from those Gillette commercials with Roger Federer and Tiger Woods - Henri�

SIMON: Well, he's also like, just about the greatest football player in the world, OK?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, but to Americans, we know him as the guy with Roger Federer and Tiger Woods.

SIMON: Well, he makes almost as much money as David Beckham. But go ahead - in commercials. Yes, what?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: Henri, however, great he is, he touched the ball twice before kicking it to a teammate, who headed it into Ireland's goal, and of course in a game nicknamed footie, you're not supposed to touch the ball with your hands. But the ref didn't see the offending hand ball and the goal was allowed, and France are through, as they say. It's created quite an uproar. Fans are protesting. Irish politicians are angry. Some French politicians are admitting this is no way for their country's team to qualify for the World Cup. It's been quite a scene.

SIMON: Torn apart our family, with an Irish mother and a French wife, let me tell you. Is there any chance that it would be rolled back? I mean, I understand, in fact, that the president of Ireland approached President Sarkozy, when they were supposed to be talking about important stuff like, you know, reinvigorating the economy, and said, can we play the game over?

GOLDMAN: Well, FIFE put an end to that quickly. They issued a terse statement Friday saying: As is clearly mentioned in the laws of the game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee, and those decisions are final. And word today, Scott, that Ireland is giving up on its appeal for a replay. But�

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: �it's not over for Irish fans. Bunches, reportedly, are organizing a boycott of Gillette, so we may be seeing lots of Irish men with long beards throughout the world because of this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: That's a very funny line. Does this renew the call for, obviously, videotape to be used the way it is in American football?

GOLDMAN: Certainly, it renews the call for that. What may be more realistic is the call for more officials on the pitch, and there's apparently a good chance that that could be voted on next spring. And a new rule providing for more officials and thus, more eyes on the field could be in place for the World Cup in South Africa.

SIMON: Few seconds we have left - Jimmie Johnson this weekend, eh?

GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah. Well, Jimmie Johnson in NASCAR, if he finishes 25th or better in tomorrow's final race of the season in the Spring Car Championships, Jimmie Johnson will win his fourth title in a row. No one has done that in the long and colorful history of stock car racing. And Scott, for a guy who actually gets carsick when he is riding as a passenger in a car, Jimmie Johnson does pretty well driving at 200 miles per hour.

SIMON: Nobody better. Tom Goldman, thanks.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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