On July 11th, Zidane spoke on French television, to apologise for setting a bad example, finally bringing the matter to a close. However, he says that he can’t really regret the action, which he says was a natural reaction to the provocation he was given, leaving an air of controvercy about the incident that is unlikely to quickly, if ever, go away. To some extent, he healed the hurt the incident caused many people by saying this, as he says he knows it was the wrong thing to do. In the interview, he didn’t quite specify what the slurs were, only that they concerned his mother and sister and that because his mother was ill it was especially hurtful to hear them at that time. Although what he did was totally unacceptable, on a human level we can understand his feelings and how he was unwillingly pushed ‘over the edge’ by Materazzi’s words-
"They were very hard words," Zidane said. "You hear them once and you try to move away… But then you hear them twice, and then a third time. I am a man and some words are harder to hear than actions. I would rather have taken a blow to the face than hear that." (From the interview).
For his part, Materazzi denies even mentioning Zidane’s mother, though as he also says he doesn’t even know what a terrorist is, we can safely see this as dishonest. Yet from a professional perspective this really doesn’t go far enough for Zidane, someone who has repeatedly acted violently on the pitch (and perhaps off it) and has the dishonour of having earned himself no less than 14 red cards in his career, not all of them whilst his mother was sick, though of course we hope she gets better this time. The question remains of what was the insult and could it have had the malicious intention Zidane alledges it had ? Although he just says they concerned his mother and sister, there is still a very strong possibility that the insults referred to his Algerian background in a not very nice way, but that Fifa and his agents begged him not to mention this, so as to avoid inflaming the situation further a la the Danish ‘Cartoon Crisis’. I assume they will find their own, quiet way to deal with the whole thing.
(Edit 20/07/2006- This has since been denied by both parties, with Zidane only claiming the insults afected family members and not his ethnicity. Unless anything definitive comes out, it seems most likely that a thoughtless insult of Zidane’s mother came at the wrong time for him to bear it. He has been instructed to do community service and both players were suspended from games and fined. The fact that Materazzi was also punished shows that Fifa will no longer tolerate such provocations as ‘part of the game’, nor will they tolerate such responses. Whether they can avoid repeats of such scenes remains to be seen).
(Edit 14/09/2006- I abridged this entry due to quite simply being too long! The full version may be restored on one of my other sites, however).
(Photographs Copyright BBC Sport)