The Liverpool FC striker Luis Suárez was yesterday banned for eight matches and fined £40,000 after being found guilty of misconduct by “using insulting words towards” Patrice Evra of Manchester United.
The allegations centred around an incident during a Premier League fixture between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on 15 October, during which Evra claimed Suárez racially abused him “at least 10 times”.
Both players gave evidence to a three-man panel, led by a QC (a leading legal figure in the UK), as did the Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, who has continued to defend the Uruguay player since the allegation was made by Evra to the French television station Canal Plus, after the match.
Liverpool's defence involved arguing that the word “negrito” does not have racist connotations in Uruguay. Evra said it was unacceptable and that Suárez was being offensive as the pair clashed repeatedly in the second half at Anfield.
“Reference to colour”
A Football Association statement said: “An independent regulatory commission has today found a charge of misconduct against Luis Suárez proven, and have issued a suspension for a period of eight matches as well as fining him £40,000, pending appeal.
“On 16 November 2011, the Football Association charged Luis Suárez with misconduct contrary to FA Rule E3 in relation to the Liverpool FC versus Manchester United FC fixture on 15 October 2011. The insulting words used by Mr Suárez included a reference to Mr Evra's colour within the meaning of Rule E3(2)”
Suárez said on Twitter last night: “Today is a very difficult and painful day for both me and my family. Thanks for all the support, I'll keep working!” He later added: “I'm upset by the accusations of racism. I can only say that I have always respected and respect everybody. We are all the same. I go to the field with the maximum illusion of a little child who enjoys what he does, not to create conflicts.”
After the hearing Liverpool FC reacted angrily, vigorously defended the innocence of their player and referred strongly to their anti- discrimination activities.
“Icons also carry prejudices”
Piara Powar, Executive Director of the FARE network said, “This breaks the myth that racial abuse amongst players does not take place and cannot be sanctioned. If we are serious about tackling social exclusion we must tackle the uncomfortable truth that the icons of the game can carry prejudices like everyone else.
“For years unacceptable abuse amongst players has gone unpunished, the victims, perpetrators and fans left with a sense of unfinished business. The FA have initiated a process that looks thorough and credible.”
“Hopefully an 8 game ban & £40k fine will deter players from racially abusing an opponent from now on!” tweeted the former Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday striker, and BBC pundit, Mark Bright. “About time strong action was taken!”
Two big cases in England
The two controversial cases in English football that arose within eight days of each other in October, involving Patrice Evra and Suárez and Anton Ferdinand and John Terry, has meant the FA needed to conduct two high-profile investigations and prompted wider discussions about the prevalence of racism on the pitch.
The debate that followed has not left reputations enhanced, Sepp Blatter the Fifa president suggested players shake hands to deal with issues of race, while Gus Poyet, the Brighton & Hove Albion manager, also suggested players should turn a deaf ear. “I played football for seven years in Spain and was called everything because I was from South America, and I never went out crying like a baby, like Patrice Evra”.
The investigations have taken longer than most on-field incidents, but the complexities of the cases have meant they could not be dealt with quickly. This week the Crown Prosecution Service (UK legal prosecutors) revealed that further evidence had been received in relation to the allegation that Terry racially abused Ferdinand during Chelsea's 1-0 defeat against Queens Park Rangers in October.
Evra-Suárez has not been straightforward, in the main due to the cultural differences and linguistic nuances that have muddied the waters when it comes to deciding whether the word “negrito”, which is regarded as extremely offensive in England, has the same meaning in South America. Suárez's defence was understood to have pointed to the nuances of the Spanish language, as well as cultural differences.
Others asked whether Suárez, after four years living in northern Europe, should have an understanding of what is and is not acceptable. What is clear is that the controversial incidents that surfaced in October, at Anfield and Loftus Road, presented the FA with difficult questions. The involvement of two of the most powerful clubs in England, Liverpool and Manchester United, and the England captain, John Terry, has placed the FA under scrutiny.