Henry defended by French sports minister over handball row

French football national team captain, holder of all time goal tally records for both country and Arsenal football club Thierry 'Titi' Henry was finally offered some support from his French homeland on Thursday.

Rama Yade, the Secretary of State for Sport, joined French Football Federation vice-president Noël Le Graët, the vice-president of the French Football Federation, in defending Henry from accusations that he deliberately cheated to help Raymond Domenech’s team advance to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"We cannot talk about cheating until we know if it was a voluntary action or not, and while Thierry himself has admitted he touched the ball with his hand, only he knows if it was deliberate," said Yade.

"I do not believe that a player of his reputation, with the love of the game that he has, would be the sort to indulge in such an unsporting act. He is not the sort to do this kind of thing."

Le Graët’s message was much the same, admitting that a deliberate handball would qualify as an antijeu – unsportsmanlike behaviour – but insisting that Henry’s track record was such that his innocence, or at least the absence of intent, should be presumed until he confesses otherwise.

"Players should be judged on their career," said Le Graet. "If you do the report of Thierry’s career, there is only one word that does not suit him, and that is cheat. It is absolutely necessary to forgive him this peccadillo."

Not everyone in France, though, is quite so forgiving. The French teachers’ union, SNEP-FSU, released a statement on Thursday condemning Henry’s act of "indisputable cheating" as setting the irresponsible example that "the most important thing in sport is to win".