A Matter of Integrity

The Irish-French world-cup play off resulted in a torrent of outrage regarding the integrity of FIFA, French football and Thierry Henry himself. Integrity is about being authentic, real, honest and about taking responsibility for one’s actions – be this for an individual person or heads of sports or other organisations. Certainly, FIFA representatives talk frequently about the integrity of the game of football, but somehow their actions fall far short of their words and not just in regard to the Irish-French match. For example, and most pertinent to the present controversy, there is quite an amazing shortfall in the refereeing of international football matches. Why FIFA have not adopted the use of technology, which has been so effectively used by rugby organisations, remains a mystery to me. What is especially frustrating about the French goal is that Henry not only handled the ball once, but twice, and the ‘blindness’ of the referee and the assistant referee is giving rise to all sorts of conspiracies – and not without grounds! Henry’s disingenuous statement that there should be a replay following the FIFA refusal doesn’t do anything to reinforce his integrity. The time for integrity is when the misdemeanour occurred and I have no doubt that Henry’s agent advised him to make the statement.

However, whatever about Henry, the integrity of the referee and his assistants needs to be seriously called into question. Even give them the benefit of the doubt, you would hope that when they saw the TV footage of the incident that they would have strongly voiced ‘mea culpa, mea culpa’ and demanded a replay. What is critical here is that it is not the replay is the important issue – but integrity. Mistakes are opportunities for learning and progress, but not at the cost of somebody else or a nation’s misery. The arrangement of a replay surely is not a major logistics exercise. However, what does appear to be a major psycho-logistics exercise is genuineness, responsibility and a willingness to redress wrongs. Over the last year we have seen that this integrity has not been forthcoming from the heads of banks, governments, multi-nationals and financial institutions. Why, oh why are we surprised that honest and a genuine owning is not emerging from those individuals who top national and international football organisations. What led to the recession – people before profits, commerce without conscience and power without integrity are dark realities within professional sports, not just football. There is a wonderful opportunity for the national and international football organisations to admit the errors of their ways and to integrate integrity into a sport that has become crudely associated with money, cheating, fixing games and outrageous monetary value being put on players. I believe it is only a matter of time that the industry of sports will go into recession, unless it is prepared to examine its conscience and move towards walking the talk on integrity.

There is a flip side to this integrity issue and that is when you request integrity that you practice it! The old saying ‘practice what you preach’ and ‘live the change you want to see’ (Gandhi) are especially relevant here. We can be quick to point the finger at others but miss that three fingers are pointing back at ourselves anytime we point a finger. It follows that those who are demanding integrity including the FAI and believe that FIFA and the French Football Federation have not displayed integrity, are they ready to show integrity and put their actions where their mouth is? I for one will not watch any world cup football and I would encourage a solidarity approach not only by those Irish supporters within Ireland but all those first, second and third generation Irish living abroad. We might believe when it comes to the money stakes that FIFA can do without Ireland – but the Irish diaspora (some 70 million people) is a much bigger challenge to the profit-target fixation of football organisations. Change can be brought about from the top down – much quicker, but less likely – or from the grass roots up – much slower, but more likely. Let us see where integrity truly lies over the coming months.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and is author of The Mature Manger.