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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION AND LÚIS SUÁREZ - REASONS OF THE REGULATORY COMMISSION" - DISCUSS

The FA banned Liverpool player Lúis Suárez for eight games and fined him 40000 pounds as a result of a hearing which concluded on 20/12/11, for the use of abusive and insulting words against, and a reference to the colour of, Manchester United's Patrice Evra. Suárez was also ordered to pay the costs of the hearing.
The FA's Independent Regulatory Commission, consisting of Paul Goulding QC, Denis Smith and Brian Jones, was tasked with carrying out the inquiry into the incident, which took place in the 63rd minute of the Premier League match between the two clubs at Anfield on 15/10/12, when Suárez was alleged to have called Evra a "negrito." They sent a letter and document to Liverpool detailing the reasoning behind the decision taken, the document was also placed on the FA website and released to the press on New Year's Eve.

The following excerpt comes from the letter from the FA containing the original charge, which was sent to Suárez and which is also to be seen in full in the Commission's document:


"It is alleged that in or around the 63rd minute of the above fixture you used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards an opponent Mr Patrice Evra contrary to Rule E3(1) ("particular one").
"It is further alleged that your breach of Rule E3(1) included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Mr Patrice Evra within the meaning of Rule E3(2) ("particular two").
"Please note that the two particulars are free-standing, albeit sequential, and separate decisions will be required in relation to each by the Regulatory Commission. Please also note that, by reference to FA Rule E3(2), should a Regulatory Commission find breach of Rule E3(1) proved, and find that it includes a reference to ethnic origin and/or race then the Commission shall consider the imposition of an increased sanction, as set out at page 119 of the FA Handbook 2011-12."

An opinion was expressed in an earlier article on this blog, and, for those who might not have read it, please find below the link to said blog:

http://patmcguinness.blogspot.com/2011/12/luis-suarez-banned-and-fined-but-is-he.html

The FA ruling makes interesting reading, and at 115 pages - and over 400 paragraphs - long, it is certainly not light reading in any sense of the word, and seems to be fairly comprehensive. The link for the document is below for those who would like to read it:

http://www.thefa.com/TheFA/Disciplinary/NewsAndFeatures/2011/~/media/Files/PDF/TheFA/Disciplinary/Written%20reasons/FA%20v%20Suarez%20Written%20Reasons%20of%20Regulatory%20Commission.ashx

The introduction to the FA document gives a short account of what allegedly happened from the viewpoints of both Suárez and Evra, stated that Suárez was guilty of the charges levelled against him and details the punishment meted out to the Uruguyan. The rest of the document goes on to explain the matter in close detail, starting with the process, going on to explain the laws which Suárez were charged with breaking, and continuing on with what are described in the document as being "The Background Facts."
The document also detailed evidence from  two experts called in by the FA, Professor Peter Wade and Dr. James Scorer, both of whom are well-versed in the intricacies of Latin American Spanish and fields which lean towards sociology, anthropology and politics (apologies to both for the rather loose description), the "Main Factual Disputes" (what the FA indentified as theoretical inconsistencies which could occur on both sides of the argument), the charges laid against Suárez, his punishment, a summary and conclusion.

In the document, much is made of the assertion that Suárez's testimony is unreliable, "clearly inconsistent" and "flawed." The document stated that, instead of calling Evra a "negro" once, and in a friendly manner as  Suárez claimed, he was shown to have said the word seven times in two minutes in a style bordering on hostile, between the 63rd and 65th minutes. 

The seeds were apparently sown some five minutes before, in the 58th minute, when Suárez was adjudged to have fouled Evra. According to the FA report, Suárez's team-mate, Dirk Kuyt, was alleged to have said to Evra, "Stand up, you fucking prick." Kuyt, who was called by a witness by the Commission, denied this.
In the 63rd minute, Liverpool won a corner, and there was a confrontation between Suárez and Evra. Kuyt joined them, and proceeded to prod Evra in the chest. Evra then pushed Kuyt in the chest, using both hands.

The corner was taken, but match referee Andre Marriner had stopped play. Evra then said, in Spanish, to Suárez, "concha de tu hermana", which, when literally translated, means "your sister's pussy," though it is colloquially used as a translation for "fucking hell." Evra admitted saying this, though Suárez said that he did not hear the remark.

There then followed a dialogue in Spanish, with Suárez asking Evra what he said. Evra then asked his opponent why he kicked him. This is the point where it all starts to get murky, and two versions of what happened emerged.

Evra, first of all, alleged that Suárez then said, "Because you're black", and Evra then asked Suárez to repeat what he had just said, and then said, "Say it to me again, I'm going to punch you." Suárez then said, according to Evra, "I don't talk to blacks." Evra then told Suárez that he was now going to punch him, to which Suárez's reply was, "Okay, nigger, nigger, nigger." It is important to note that Evra thought that, at the time of the exchange, Suárez was calling him a "nigger", but Evra later accepted that he meant to say "black" or "blackie." Meanwhile, while Suárez was speaking, he pinched Evra in the arm.

Kuyt joined them, and proceeded to prod Evra in the chest. Evra then pushed Kuyt in the chest, using both hands. The referee came over and told both Evra and Suárez to calm down; apparently, at this point, Evra told the official that Suárez had called him "a fucking black."

Suárez's version differed somewhat from that of Evra. When Evra asked him why he fouled him, Suárez told the Frenchman that it was just a "normal foul." Evra replied that he would kick him. Suárez then told him to shut up. When Marriner stopped play, Evra said, "Don't touch me, South American." Suárez then asked, "¿Porqué, negro?" ("Why, negro?")

This, according to Suárez, was the only time he uttered the word "negro" to Evra. With reference to his pinching Evra's arm, he said in his statement to the inquiry that he did it in an attempt to "defuse the situation" while inferring that Evra was "not untouchable by reference to his question about the foul." (He claimed that he did not intend the action to be offensive and that it was "most certainly not racially offensive.") Marriner came over and spoke to both players, and both players walked back to the goalmouth. It was then that Suárez patted Evra on the back of the head, to which Evra reacted by pushing Suarez's arm away. (Suárez claimed that the pat on the back of Evra's head was meant as a concilliatory gesture.) The referee came over again, spoke to the players for a second time and the game continued.

Other players, such as Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea, were nearby, but nobody was able to tell the inquiry that they heard anything. Marriner also told the inquiry that he also did not hear Evra's allegation about Suárez's behaviour. Evra was booked a couple of minutes later after an altercation with Kuyt, which was also touched upon during the hearing.

(Several players made statements to and/or were called as witnesses to the Commission's inquest, including Kuyt and Ryan Giggs.)

An upset Evra, together with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, reported the incident to Andre Marriner at the end of the match, who, the next day, filled in an Extraordinary Incident Reoprt Form, which was sent to the FA, setting the wheels in motion for the inquiry. After the match, Evra told French television channel Canal Plus that Suárez had used the word "negro" at least "ten times" during the match.

Now, judging by reaction across the media, and that includes what is rapidly becoming a not-so-social-media, opinion on the case against Suárez has broadly been polarised, and there has been much nit-picking and abuse being flung from all sides since the guilty verdict against Suárez was delivered.

Time, then, to delve just a little deeper into some of the findings of the Commission, although some of those reading this may well opine that this article will omit certain bits and pieces from the inquiry and hearing. That is fair enough, but the will to be objective is there.

In the opinion of the Spanish language experts assisting with the case, Professor Wade and Dr. Scorer, the word "negro" is ambiguous in meaning throughout Latin America. It can be used offensively in certain situations, not just as a racial slur, but, to give an example given in the hearing, can also refer to the lower-classes in certain areas of Argentina.

The word "negro" can also be used as a term of affection, a friendly form of address, as a nickname, a neutral form of address or as a word to describe a particular individual.
The two experts also went on to give their opinions on how the word might have been used by Suárez, in both a potentially racist and a non-racist way.

Comments were also made in the document regarding the demeanour of both Evra and Suárez in the "witness-box" during the hearing. The Commission stated that they found Evra to be "an impressive witness", giving his evidence to them in a "calm, composed manner", and that his evidence remained more or less consistent. They also seemed to be impressed with his honesty when he admitted starting the fracas with Suárez by using the words, "Concha de tu hermana", even though, in the words of the Commission document, "it reflected badly on him."


The Commission were rather less impressed with Suárez, though admitted that it was a "stressful time for the player", who "gave evidence in a respectful manner." It also said that Suárez was "not as impressive a witness" as his Manchester United counterpart, saying that "his answers were not always clear" and queried whether this was due to "language difficulties or evasiveness", though it also added that they tried to give him the benefit of the doubt where posible. The members of the Commisson were "more concerned by the substance of his evidence..than by the manner in which he gave it."

It could be argued that Suárez, by owning up to the fact that he said "negro" to Evra, at once admitted guilt but; by the same token, this show of honesty might have led to a more lenient sentence.

The Commission found Dirk Kuyt's statement unreliable, and also commented on the fact that Dalglish and Liverpool Director of Football, Damien Comolli, had given diferent testimonies than Suárez regarding what was discussed after the match, whereas statements from Evra, Ferguson and four fellow United players (including Hernandez and Anderson) were found to be consistent and reliable.
The statements of match referee Andre Mariner and his fourth-official on the day in question, Phil Dows, were also found to be reliable.

The Commission also found it unacceptable that Suárez changed his approach in regard to pinching Evra's arm, which, Suárez said in his original witness statement, was an attempt to defuse the situation. Suárez, under "persistent" questioning at the hearing, said that the pinching was not an attempt to defuse the situation. It was an attempt to show the Frenchman that he wasn't "untouchable" (with regard to the earlier foul).
In summing up, the FA said this:


"The FA confirmed that it has not contended that Mr Suárez acted as he did out of deep-seated racial prejudice, ie because he is a racist. The FA submitted that the likelihood was that Mr Suárez was seeking to provoke Mr Evra, so as to cause him to be sent off, thereby gaining a competitive advantage in the game."
An eight-game suspension, the Commission said, was warranted under Rule E3 (Conduct). The following, was also included in the Commission document:
"Rule E3, with the sub-heading "General Behaviour", provides as follows:
"(1) A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.
"(2) In the event of any breach of Rule E3(1) including a reference to any one or more of a person's ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability (an "aggravating factor"), a Regulatory Commissionshall consider the imposition of an increased sanction, taking into account the following entry points:
"For a first offence, a sanction that is double that which the Regulator Commission would have applied had the aggravating factor not been present.
"For a second offence, a sanction that is treble that which the Regulatory Commission would have applied had the aggravating factor not been present.
"Any further such offence(s) shall give rise to consideration of a permanent suspension.
"These entry points are intended to guide the Regulatory Commission and are not mandatory.
"The Regulatory Commission shall have the discretion to impose a sanction greater or less than the entry point, according to the aggravating or mitigating factors present in each case."
Luis Suárez had never previously been faced with accusations of using racist language, so this was regarded as his first offence. He had been found guilty of Rule E3(1) - using insulting words - and as a result was suspended for two matches. Having been found guilty of using insulting words with referece to Evra's colour, the sentence was thus doubled under Rule E3(2) to a four-match suspension.
Regulation 8.1 of the FA's Disciplinary Regulations was also used by the Commission in fixing Suárez's suspension, and the following excerpt also appeared in the Commission document:
"The Regulatory Commission shall have the power to impose any one or more of the following penalties on the Alleged Offender:
"(a) a reprimand and/or warning as to future conduct;
(b) a fine;
(c) suspension from all or any specified football activity from a date that the Regulatory Commission shall order, permanently or for a stated period or number of matches;
...
(h) such further or other penalty or order as it considers appropriate."

If Suárez had used insulting language against Evra without referring to his opponent's skin-colour, the Comission contended,a two-match suspension would have been served. Adding the two together would have meant a four-match suspension; the Commission doubled the sentence, explaining themselves via the penultimate paragraph contained within the document, and an excerpt from same, containing said explanation, is found below:
"Had Mr Suárez been sent off for using insulting words (not including reference to a person's colour), he would have received an automatic two-match suspension. The guidance in the FA Rules suggested that our starting-point should be to double that sanction, ie a four-match suspension. However, we were entitled to increase or reduce the penalty further. We took account of various aggravating and mitigating factors. As for the aggravating factors, Mr Suárez used the word "negro" or "negros" seven times, in the course of an
acrimonious argument, and went beyond simply addressing Mr Evra as "negro". Mr Suárez knew or ought to have known that these words were unacceptable, particularly in view of the FA-supported campaigns against all forms of racism in football. The words were targeted directly at Mr Evra, as part of Mr Suarez's attempts to wind him up. As for the mitigating factors, Mr Suarez had a clean record in relations to charges of this type. Mr Evra started the confrontation in the goalmouth, in response to which Mr Suarez used the insulting words. Mr Suárez is likely to suffer personal embarrassment as a result of his behaviour coming to light through this decision. He has in the past supported, and continues to support, a charitable project in South Africa designed to promote multi-racial football. He is likely to have learned a lesson through the experience
of these proceedings, and said that he would not use the word "negro" on a football pitch in England in the future."

Simply put, Lúis Suárez should not have said what he did to Patrice Evra, not even once, regardless of the fact that the Frenchman is not exactly possessed with a Kevlar-like outer shell. It is wrong to bring issues of race, religion, sexual orientation and so on into a football ground in the first place, let alone on to the pitch.

It has been said by a great many people (mostly anonymous types on the internet) that Suárez had been better off denying the charges served upon him instead of admitting that he called Evra a "negro" on one occasion. What good would that have done?

As far as Liverpool's legal challenge and reaction to the charge laid against their player was concerned, it was a shambolic, ill-conceived hash of an affair. A two-page statement was made in support of Suárez when the charges were first made public. Too forcefully, it would appear; it was very strongly-worded, ill thought-out and too quick to have been made public.

T-shirts bearing Suárez's picture on the front and name and number on the back were worn by the Liverpool players in the pre-match warm-up before the game away to Wigan. Such a move was bound to backfire, and it did.

Liverpool would be better served clearing its Public Relations department or changing its PR firm, whichever is more applicable; at the very least, those involved on the PR side should be dangled by the heels off the roof of the Kop and made to beg for forgiveness.

As for Kenny Dalglish, he only did what most managers would have done - he stood by his man, in public, and did so on more than one occasion. In private, it is a good bet that Suárez is in no doubt as to what his manager really thinks of the situation; Liverpool has never really been the sort of club to wash its dirty linen in public. 

The image of Liverpool FC, and that of Lúis Suárez, has been dragged through the mud, partly through the opinions of others, partly through the media and those who anonymously prowl the shadows of the internet, and partly through their own deeds.

Patrice Evra comes away with precious little credit, either, having been shown to instigate the whole incident (and there are one or two other incidents, although eventually dismissed as not really being relevant to the case, were mentioned in the report and also put Evra in a bad light); although his testimony was described as being consistent, and the Commission also stated that they "found that Mr Evra's account is probably what happened." Probably?? Because he was slightly more consistent in his story than was Suárez as he was able to view tapes supplied by "international broadcasters" during the making of his witness statement, unlike the accused?

The FA is also far from blameless; they could have handled certain things better, such as providing Suárez's solicitor (Peter McCormick OBE) with certain "unused material" (tapes and documents), which, according to the the Commission's document, was "material which the FA had gathered or considered in the course of its investigation but on which it did not intend to rely. The purpose of providing it to Mr Suarez was to enable him and his advisers to examine the unused material to see whether, in their view, it was relevant and helpful to Mr Suarez in defending the Charge."

The FA's Independent Regulatory Commission could have left the suspension at four games, but it does seem, to an extent at least, as though they wanted to send a message to FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter, regarding the handling of racism in the world game, and that they made an example of Suárez. In light of the fact that Suárez had never face such charges before, a four-game ban, for example, plus a heavy fine and perhaps a FA-course on English footbal culture - why not make such a course mandatory for all overseas players going to play in another country? - might have been called for. (For more thoughts on this, please refer to the blog mentioned at the beginning of this article.)

Evra will, as a result of the whole matter, perhaps become more of a target for the boo-boys, and that is to be deplored. Suárez has already become a target of often hypocritical and venomous abuse for the boo-boys, on the terraces and in the not-so-social-media (newspapers included), unfortunately, and will remain a target until he hangs up his boots.

Suárez (and Liverpool) may well appeal the Commission's verdict; in the long run, however, it might be better for him, and for Liverpool, to (in "Deadliest Catch" parlance) "suck it up", serve the suspension, and get back to - all being well - repairing his reputation, both on, and off, the pitch. It might be better, too, if a lot of others who had too much to say, but in the end had nothing to say, took a step back and had a good look at themselves before condemning anybody.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------STOP PRESS/AUTHOR'S NOTE: Less than an hour after the above article was completed and published, it was made public that Liverpool would not be lodging an appeal against the sanctions imposed on Lúis Suárez.







2 comments:

  1. It was Ferguson who turned the singular into the multiple and morphed the Spanish word for black into the English n-word. The prosecution and the Commission were playing for the same side. Luis never stood a chance

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  2. Pat's Football BlogJanuary 21, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    You might well be right, Anonymous, and the whole thing was a bit of a shambles, but the fact of the matter is that once Suárez admitted his guilt, it was going to be merely a question of how severe the punishment would be. At the end of the day, he should have engaged brain before mouth. Thanks very much for your comment (please leave your name next time! :-)).

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