The media has been agog with reports about Mr. Blatter suggesting that Ireland should be given "moral compensation" for being cheated out of a chance to play in the World Cup. However, he is "insist[ing that] a monetary reward for the FAI would not be appropriate."
The reports are thin on detail and it is hard to determine what Mr. Blatter actually means by "moral compensation." One thing is clear: By suggesting compensation, Blatter appears to be admitting blame. After all, there is no question of compensation unless there is fault. Since France has not authorized him to admit fault, one must assume that Blatter is admitting blame for FIFA's actions.
What are moral damages? The term has been frequently employed in international law; scholars have pointed to article 31 (which establishes the principle of full reparation for wrongful acts) of the International Law Commission's Articles on State Responsibility as allowing moral damages. The commentary refers to damage to a state's prestige, honour and dignity as constituting moral damage. In the Rainbow Warrior arbitration between France and New Zealand, the parties agreed that "Unlawful action against non-material interests, such as acts affecting the honor, dignity or prestige of a State, entitle the victim State to receive adequate reparation, even if those acts have not resulted in a pecuniary or material loss for the claimant State." Even if article 31 establishes a basis for moral damages, it only applies to internationally wrongful acts committed by states.
There is also a growing body of law on moral damages in investment disputes. This is characterized more by uncertainty and confusion than by clear principle. The one bit of clarity that can be gleaned from these awards is that moral damages are typically for intangible losses.
None of this is of much help to Mr. Blatter because Ireland did not suffer any loss to "honor, dignity or prestige" because of the handball. Further, the harm suffered by it is not of an intangible nature or hard to measure financially. It suffered very real pecuniary harm, and this must be compensated by hard cash if FIFA is at fault.
Talk is cheap. Mr. Blatter must put his money where his mouth is.