Football: Fifa paid Ireland's FA $6.7m to stop legal action

Fifa's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. Fifa paid Ireland's FA US$5 million (S$6.7 million) to avoid a legal case over a controversial World Cup playoff defeat in 2009, the football governing body confirmed on Thursday. -- PHOTO: EPA
Fifa's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. Fifa paid Ireland's FA US$5 million (S$6.7 million) to avoid a legal case over a controversial World Cup playoff defeat in 2009, the football governing body confirmed on Thursday. -- PHOTO: EPA

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Fifa paid Ireland's FA (FAI) US$5 million (S$6.7 million) to avoid a legal case over a controversial World Cup playoff defeat in 2009, world soccer's governing body confirmed on Thursday.

Ireland were knocked out by France in a two-legged playoff to qualify for the 2010 South Africa tournament, with the decisive goal in the second leg coming after a handball by French striker Thierry Henry in extra time.

With moral outrage over the goal in Ireland and beyond growing, world soccer's governing body came to a financial agreement with the FAI not to proceed with legal action.

Fifa said on Thursday it gave the FAI a loan that would have been paid back had Ireland qualified for the 2014 World Cup.

"In January 2010 Fifa entered into an agreement with FAI in order to put an end to any claims against Fifa," it said in a statement. "Fifa granted FAI a loan of $5 million for the construction of a stadium in Ireland. At the same time, Uefa also granted the FAI funds for the same stadium.

"The terms agreed between Fifa and the FAI were that the loan would be reimbursed if Ireland qualified for the 2014 Fifa World Cup. Ireland did not so qualify.

"Because of this, and in view of the FAI's financial situation, Fifa decided to write off the loan as per Dec 31, 2014."

Former Arsenal and Barcelona forward Henry blatantly stopped the ball going out of play with his hand, before crossing for William Gallas to score. The game in Paris in 2009 ended 1-1 after with France progressing to the finals 2-1 on aggregate.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter revealed that the FAI had asked the governing body to be handed a "33rd place" in the World Cup at a confidential meeting to discuss a possible replay.

FAI chief executive John Delaney criticised Blatter at the time for his handling of the incident and accused the Swiss of being "disrespectful".

Speaking to Irish state broadcaster RTE on Thursday, Delaney said: "It was a payment to the association... not to proceed with a legal case.

"We felt we had a legal case against Fifa because of how the World Cup hadn't worked out because of the Thierry Henry handball, also the way (Sepp) Blatter behaved if you remember on stage, having a snigger, having a laugh at us.

"So that day when I went in and told him how I felt about him... there were some expletives used, we came to an agreement... It was a very good agreement for the FAI, a very legitimate agreement for the FAI."