Is Thierry Henry a Cheater?

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As you may have heard, Europe is being roiled by the fact that France beat Ireland in a crucial World Cup qualifying match thanks to a goal assisted by a handball committed by Thierry Henry. Henry has admitted that he used his hand, so there’s no controversy about what happened, only about whether anything will be done about it.

What’s interesting to me is the apparently widespread impulse to call this “cheating” on Henry’s part rather than just poor officiating. I don’t know nearly enough about the norms of soccer to say whether or not that’s an appropriate judgment. But it strikes me that in American football if someone won the game based on part on, say, a bad out-of-bounds call we couldn’t say that the guy who should have been called out had been “cheating.” Similarly, a lot of us think that poor officiating delivered the 2006 Finals to Miami (especially game five) but if anyone was cheating it was the referees. Slipping poison into the other team’s water supply would be cheating, getting every marginal block/charge call to go your way is just good fortune.

Admittedly, though, none of those things are really parallel to using your hands in a soccer game. But I’m struggling to come up with an analogy that really works one way or the other.