In punishing Luis Suarez for what were ultimately judged to be racist remarks which he made to Patrice Evra, the FA have made clear their zero tolerance of racism in football.
Rather than put an end to the issue however, the decision looks to have created a bitter dispute between the FA and Liverpool, which may rumble on for some time. Liverpool’s response was a total lack of acceptance of the FA’s verdict and the club are likely to appeal against the ban.
Whilst the club’s own response has hardly been welcomed warmly throughout the football world – something which few at Liverpool are likely to be concerned by – there are plenty of reasons why they are to feel as though Suarez been unfairly treated.
The widely documented cultural differences have been cited. Suarez has never denied using the words in which Evra found to be offensive, and that is to his credit in a dispute which is entirely one person’s word against another person’s; He could easily have denied saying anything to Evra at all, which would have made it impossible for the FA to issue a guilty verdict.
Having confirmed that he used the particular word(s) which the investigation centred around, Suarez’s argument was that the way in which it was used was not intended to offend.
Many journalists have already dismissed this idea, claiming that the Uruguayan’s four years spent in Holland should have left him in no doubt as to what is and isn’t acceptable in European culture. But being part of the same continent doesn’t automatically ensure that the culture is going to be exactly the same in two separate nations. Suarez cannot be assumed guilty based on that fact that having lived Holland for so long, he should be fully aware of what is acceptable in Britain.
The comments between both players were said to have taken place in Spanish. Therefore, the words cannot simply be translated into English and then a British meaning applied to the conversation. It’s not as straight-forwards as that and if it was, then Liverpool have a valid argument that Evra’s initial comment in which he is alleged to have said “Don’t touch me, you South American” could also be considered to have had a racist tone to it.
Yet the FA have shown no intention of charging the Man United player and in contrast, Suarez has often been portrayed as a guilty man long before the verdict was issued, and tasked with proving his innocence.
Also, in such a highly complex and difficult case, with no witnesses other than the two players involved, and which has taken so long for a verdict to arrive, the FA may have taken a big gamble in giving Suarez such a lengthy ban.
The case has been ongoing for over two months and it is more than five weeks since an initial charge was made against Suarez. If the evidence was clear enough for a charge to be issued in mid-November, why was there so long before a verdict could be reached? And if there remained doubts regarding the context, how could such a severe punishment be handed out with enough certainty that it was the right decision to make?
There is obviously pressure to demonstrate a commitment to the fight against racism by the FA and that should be supported. However it shouldn’t mean looking for the earliest possible opportunity to make an example of a high-profile player in order to prove such a commitment, especially in a case as complicated as that of Suarez and Evra.
Sending out a signal that offensive comments involving racist language will not be tolerated is something that the FA should be applauded for, though as unacceptable a crime as it is, it shouldn’t be punished so much more severely than, for example, a violent off-the-ball incident such as headbutting or stamping on an opponent, both of which would only carry a standard three match ban for an offence of violent conduct.
If intent on truly cleaning up the game, the FA need to be careful not to lose perspective when dealing with sensitive cases with a great deal of public interest.
It will be interesting to note the result of a Liverpool appeal, but the one certainty is that this case is one which is not going to go away quietly.