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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student

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Footballer touches ball, earns shame of country

Remember that time, a couple years back, when French football player Zinedine Zidane headbutted that Italian guy in the chest during a match?

I do, and I don’t even know anything about soccer.

Zidane said he didn’t regret his outburst, and the French didn’t hold it against him, either – in a poll executed by Paris daily Le Parisien, 61 percent of respondents said that they forgave Zidane days after the offense was committed.

Just don’t expect the same pardon for Thierry Henry, whose actions during a recent World Cup qualification match against Ireland prompted the same newspaper to state that “to be French is to be ashamed of one’s national team.”

Ouch.

“Shame.” Harsh. But hey, those are just the feelings of one paper, right?

Wrong. Try the whole of French press, French people and even French politicians.

Le Monde, another French paper, confirmed the sentiment: Two-thirds of those polled agreed that Henry’s behavior “discredits France’s qualification.”

And it wasn’t just any politician expressing disdain. President Nicolas Sarkozy himself felt the need to tell Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen “how sorry (he) was” for the Irish after last week’s game.

If Zidane can ram a guy like a hornless rhino and be forgiven within days, what would Henry had to have done to deserve the shame of his entire country? Set an opponent on fire? Drop kick a baby? Run around the field naked, save a cape embroidered with “I hate France and all its people”?

Nope. Henry’s sin is a simple one. He broke the one rule that I, athletically an idiot, know about soccer.

Don’t touch the ball with your hands.

Oh, but touch it Henry did. Twice – and in a buildup to the game’s winning goal, no less.

Violence, it seems, the French can take – it’s just part of the game. Blatant rule violations, though, are much tougher to swallow.

On an academic level, I was aware of the rabid sort of enthusiasm every country that’s not the U.S. or Canada has for soccer – but I’d never really witnessed it from the vantage point of a non-American.

During the past few weeks, though, both French and international press have given me several gems to gawk about.

Aside from the handball debacle, there was last Saturday’s reaction in Marseille, France, to the outcome of an Egypt-Algeria match that had been played that day a continent away.

I first read about the game on Al-Jazeera, where reports cited officials who were happy about the lack of violence in the two countries immediately following the game.

Cut to the Web site of La Provence, the Aix-Marseille regional newspaper, whose main photo was of policemen in Marseille standing before a fire started during a post-match riot that resulted in eight arrests, at least one fire and six severely damaged boats.

My advice? If you ever find yourself in France on a game day, keep these guidelines in mind.

Headbutting? Cool. 

Fire? Awesome.

Rule breaking and/or an L for the favored team?

Run far, far away.

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