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Saturday, December 24, 2011


The Liverpool player Luis Suárez was found guilty by the FA on Tuesday of using insulting language with racist overtones against Manchester United's Patrice Evra during the game between the two clubs at Anfield on 18/10/11, and received punishment consisting of an eight-match ban plus a fine of 40000 pounds (€48000). It was alleged that Suárez repeatedly used the word "negrito" (literally translated as "little black one") against the French international; Suárez has admitted using the term, once and once only, and said that it was meant jocularly. Evra, on the other hand, alleged that the Uruguayan used the term at least ten times during the game; he and Sir Alex Ferguson approached the referee after the game and informed him of what was alleged to have happened. The FA have also apparently stated that Suárez was not a racist.

It was mentioned on this blog last month that if Suárez was found guilty of racial abuse, that he should have the book thrown at him. The FA didn't throw the book at Suárez as the complete edition of the latest version of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. It was also mentioned in the the blog that "negrito" does not have the same pejorative meaning in Uruguay, Chile and Argentina as it does in other parts of Spanish-speaking Latin America; in fact, generally speaking, the meaning of the word in southern South America lends itself to altogether friendlier connotations.

It has also been noted across the media that Suárez uttered "negrito" out of earshot of everybody else on the pitch except for Evra. Evra stated during an interview after the game with French television station Canal Plus that Suárez had called him "negrito" ten times during the game, and said that television pictures would back him up. These pictures have not been made public, should they exist. Evra has also admitted calling Suárez a "Sudana", an apparently pejorative term in Spanish. Many have tried to defend Suárez by saying that the charge was based on "hearsay", but since Suárez admitted calling Evra a "negrito', that theory went straight out the window.

What to make of it all? Liverpool, who are noted for their anti-racist stance and cross community-work, have defended their man to the hilt, to the extent that the club released a two-page statement - which was a little over-the-top in its content - to the press after news of the verdict on Suárez was made public. The Daily Mirror newspaper went so far as to print the following one-word headline on the back page: "Racist." The Daily Express also printed the same headline with regard to Suárez recently, apparently. Interesting times might lie ahead for both publications should Suárez decide to sue for defamation; both the FA and Evra himself are of the opinion that Lúis Suárez is not a racist. The press coverage of the Suárez case highlights the hypocrisy of publications such as The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express in their attitude towards the Liverpool player in portraying him as a racist; all three newspapers have been consistently anti-Irish, anti-immigrant, anti-black and anti-Muslim down the ages.

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has also gone public on several occasions in defence of the Uruguayan, and, as a result, has found himself ridiculed in the gutter press and on various internet fora. The club also came in for a lot of criticism after the team sported T-shirts in support of Suárez, with his picture on the front and his name and number on the back, before Wednesday evening's 0:0 draw away to Wigan Athletic. 

This course of action has drawn criticism from several black players,  both past and present, including Blackburn Rovers' Jason Roberts and ex-Irish international Paul McGrath, who was quoted on the BBC website as saying that if he was in (Suárez's Liverpool team-mate) Glen Johnson's shoes, he "would have thrown the T-shirt to the floor." Johnson's reply, delivered via Twitter, to McGrath's riposte was short and to the point: "I will support who I want when I want! There are a lot of reasons why I'm standing by Luis Suárez!" Former Liverpool and England star, John Barnes, meanwhile, described the verdict and the storm around Suárez as a "witch-hunt" during an interview aired on BBC Radio Merseyside.

Barnes went on to say: "From a cultural point of view, [Suarez] has been backed by people from Uruguay saying the word he used is not deemed as a racist term. As much as we will say that ignorance is no excuse, ignorance is an excuse."

"Twenty years ago in England, the same people in England now condemning him were ignorant as to what racism is. Why don't they condemn themselves?"

Suárez has, rather predictably, also been vilified as a racist across the length and breadth of the media, by journalists, pundits and many football fans, and it may be a surprise to learn that the majority of those fans pouring scorn on the Reds' number 7 pledge their allegiance to Manchester United. The words "goofy-toothed cunt" have been widespread on Man U-friendly websites such as; surely this is discriminatory against those of us with less than perfect teeth - a case of molarism, perhaps? In all seriousness, however, the question should be asked: is Suárez really as despicable as he has been painted out to be?

He has been noted as a first-class diver, in the class of Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Arjen Robben, but precious little of this ignoble art has been present during his performances on the pitch so far this season. He earned notoriety in football circles following his  goal-line handball in the last minute of extra-time against Ghana at the last World Cup, for which he was red-carded, and also for his celebrations in the players' tunnel following the missed penalty which followed. Many neutrals (and African football fans, not to mention Ghanaians) were furious with him, but they would probably have done the same thing if they were in a similar position. 

It has been mentioned across the internet that, late last year, during his last season with Ajax, Suárez sank his teeth into the shoulder of PSV Eindhoven player Otman Bakkal, and was suspended for seven matches as a result. It should, however, be said that Bakkal spent the whole match provoking Suárez, treading on his feet on a number of occasions during the game.

This was scarcely mentioned in the media, and the fact that Suárez sank his chops into Bakkal's shoulder should not be regarded as acceptable, but Bakkal's actions were little better, as he was continually attempting to goad the Uruguyan whilst causing him physical discomfort. What also wasn't mentioned was the fact that Bakkal approached Suárez at the end of the game, shook hands with him, and that the two of them walked off the pitch together, arm in arm.

During the course of discussions with other football lovers following the verdict on Suárez, comparisions were drawn with that handed down to Nigel de Jong, who "only" received a three-match ban following his leg-breaking tackle on Newcastle United's HarimBen Arfa at the beginning of last season was repeatedly raised, as was the opinion that Suárez didn't actually physically assault Evra, and that the sentence passed down was disproportionate to the ofence caused. Also raised was the possibility of Evra facing FA punishment after his abusing of Suárez; the Liverpool player has not passed on any complaint about the Frenchman's behaviour, and it would be unlikely that Evra would face FA charges in any event.  

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said that the FA made "the right decision" in imposing the ban and fine on Suárez, and added that the issue "wasn't about Manchester United and Liverpool", but rather about "an individual situation where one person was racially abused."

Fergie also referred to an incident involving Evra at Stamford Bridge in 2008, when he had a set-to with a Chelsea groundsman after a United victory against Chelsea. Evra received a four-match ban after the altercation, which is said to have started after the groundsman racially abused Evra. This is what Ferguson had to say.

"Patrice got that suspension for the incident down at Chelsea when no one was there, just a groundsman and our fitness coach. He got a four-match ban and we had to wait two weeks for the evidence to come through. We were quite astounded at that. A four-match ban?"

He concluded by saying: "We thought it was well over the top for a trivial incident."

A trivial incident? The FA, in issuing Evra with the ban and a fine of 15000 pounds, said that Evra had struck the groundsman, Sam Bethell, on the side of the head, and Evra himself admitted that he had also pushed another groundsman with his chest. But, that's football for you. One man's "trivial incident" is another man's serious offence. John Barnes had to put up with sustained racial abuse throughout his football career; he knows the difference between a "trivial incident" and something more serious.

Evra, like Suárez, has also found himself in no end of scrapes. Apart from the assault on the Chelsea groundsman (let's face it, an assault it was), the Frenchman also earned himself a little notoriety after the sending-home of Nicolas Anelka by the French FA during the 2010 World Cup finals. Anelka had allegedly rowed with French national team manager Raymond Domenech at half-time during one of the  World Cup games and had refused to apologise to the coach; news of this had been leaked to the media, and Evra, as team captain, reacted badly. He described the source of the leak as a "traitor" who should be eliminated from the team.

Evra and the rest of the French team refused to train the day after Anelka's expulsion, and he himself ended up having a public, full-scale row with fitness coach Robert Duverne. Evra later said that he regretted what had happened, describing the débacle as "clumsy", but was not spared from the public condemnation of events in South Africa and was eventually banned by the FFF (Fédération Française de Football) for his part in the controversy.

Two years earlier, immediately after the 2:0 defeat to Italy which saw France's elimination from the Euro 2008 finals, he was allegedly involved in a fracas in the tunnel with team-mates Anelka and Éric Abidal, though the video of the incident was inconclusive. Regardless, Evra is not one of football's most popular characters, but it is to be hoped that he shall not suffer any abuse for his part in the Suárez case.

It was almost inevitable that Suárez would face punishment after the FA's three-man Independent Regulatory Commission inquiry, but the sanction handed down seems to have veered towards extreme. One feels that the man has been a victim of the FA looking to set an example, to be seen to be doing something after Sepp Blatter's now famous denial of racism existing on the field of play, which was made during two television interviews last month. (Blatter did later apologise for any misunderstanding caused, but still..) Although the inquest was held outside of the public glare, it still felt a little like a show-trial, with the result never in doubt; just about the only question remaining was how heavy the sanction would be. And heavy it was.

Lúis Suárez is one of those players about whom every football supporter has an opinion; some love him, others loathe him, but football would be a duller place without him. What he did might have been correct in Uruguay, but it is frowned upon in English football so a ban and a fine were certainly justified. However, the size of the ban is perhaps excessive; he did admit to calling Evra a "negrito', after all, but that may well have come as a result of sheer ignorance of English football culture and that could well have been a cause for mitigation. Who can say for certain, and who amongst us is perfect?

That is not to say that racism is justified, though in Suárez's case, a  slightly shorter ban, a heftier fine and a course in anti-racism and English football culture might have sufficed. (It might be an idea for the FA to introduce such a course in the future, and make it mandatory for all foreign players to attend same.) Liverpool are expected to appeal the FA's decision, and were given 14 days to do so after their receipt a of a letter stating the reasons behind the Commission's findings. The letter has yet to be sent, but is expected to be made public when received by Liverpool. There are several options for the FA to decide with regard to the severity of Suárez's punishment come the (probable) appeal and verdict; this is, of course, a matter for conjecture and the verdict will be waited on with baited breath by a great many people, it seems, as well as the vultures who have been circling round during the past several weeks.

Suárez has, according to the statement released this week by his club, been a notable giver of both time and money to charity, and has also done much work for cross-community, multi-racial charities; he does have "previous", but a lot of the reaction to this latest episode involving Evra has been knee-jerk, tribal, potentially slanderous/libellous and of the "give a dog a bad name" variety. That in itself is just as damaging to the game of football as anything Suárez said to Evra (or vice-versa); it does neither Suárez nor Evra any good.

If the ban and the fine imposed on Suárez are upheld, the FA know that this case will, whether they like it or not, be used as a benchmark for any others which end up on their desk, and, if any players charged in the future are found guilty, that it will be expected that they shall also feel the full force of the FA's wrath. There is no room for double standards. But, the case of Lúis Suárez still has a little way to run, and it would be prudent for the lynch-mobs on both sides of the argument to wait for the FA's findings to be made public before they make for their ropes.


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