The Suarez Verdict: A Rush to Justice?

A very curious business, this “conviction” of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.

I say “conviction” -- which makes it sound as though Suarez has been through a legal trial and duly been found guilty. That is not what has happened.

In response to a complaint from Evra, the English Football Association (FA) convened a disciplinary panel to assess the alleged incident. Chaired by an important barrister, the panel has decided that Suarez did indeed direct racist slurs at Evra, and that his punishment should be a suspension for eight games, and a fine of $62,000.

The fine will hardly be noticed by Suarez -- but the eight-game suspension will indeed have an effect, both on Suarez and on Liverpool. Eight games? Consider: in the last couple of years there have been at least three extremely nasty incidents in the  English Premier League of violent tackles resulting in broken legs. Birmingham’s Martin Taylor, who severely crushed the leg and ankle of Arsenal’s Brazilian Eduardo, got the standard three-game suspension. So did Ryan Shawcross after breaking the leg of another Arsenal player, Aaron Ramsey. Manchester City’s Nigel de Jong, after breaking the leg of Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa, escaped with no punishment at all.

The punishment may seem excessive in one case, or not severe enough in the others, but there will surely be plenty of people who consider racism a larger blot on the game than occasional episodes of thuggery.

Clearly, the FA thinks that way, and we can be certain that FIFA does too, for it has long been pursuing a well-publicized anti-racism campaign. The question now becomes a matter of degree -- has the campaign got out of hand, is it being carried too far?

Something of this sort was obviously what Sepp Blatter had in mind when he made his suggestion that incidents like the Suarez-Evra confrontation should be settled on the field with a handshake.
The suggestion was widely ridiculed -- indeed it provoked outrage in the more extreme anti-racist circles, and Blatter had to apologize for it.

The case is further complicated by the fact that Chelsea’s John Terry is facing a similar charge. Terry happens to be the captain of England, adding great sensitivity to his case -- which, apparently as a result of “complaints from the public,” is being heard in the criminal court. That will take time.

The time factor that brings us back to the nature and the workings of the FA’s panel. These “disciplinary committees” that abound in all sports are internal investigative bodies designed to keep incidents of bad behavior (of all types, including that of club managements) out of the courts -- and, maybe, even out of the newspapers. And, of course, to work more quickly than the legal system.

In many cases, probably most, they work quite well. Until, that is, they’re challenged -- when their extra-legal standing always begins to look rather flimsy.

For a start, these panels are never set up by the players -- that is the employees. They are always formed by the bosses. They therefore exist surrounded by suspicions that they are not going to be objective, and that it will the bosses’ justice that dominates their decisions.

That is precisely the criticism being currently leveled at the topmost of all these panels, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which is involved in the case of the Swiss club Sion’s protest at being flung out of the Europa League. UEFA has taken the case to CAS, but the Sion president Christian Constantin fears CAS is likely to rule against his club because he feels that it is unfairly weighted in favor of the sports establishment.

The biggest problem with the panels is that they are seen as short-cuts to justice. This means, inevitably, dispensing with many of the time-consuming safeguards on civil and legal rights that have been built into the court system.

One of the first things to notice about the Suarez verdict is that it has been made public, while the minutes of the two-month-long hearings and the very evidence on which the verdict was based have not. This is bound to raise suspicions.

We know that Suarez and Evra were involved in a running dispute during the Liverpool-ManU game last October. Evra claims he was abused more than 10 times -- but admits that he countered the alleged abuse with naughty words of his own. If the FA panel has more evidence, its existence has yet to be revealed. If it does not, then evidently it comes down to the word of Evra against the word of Suarez.

Evra does not come out of that match up too well. In 2008, Evra was involved in a confrontation with a member of Chelsea’s ground staff, who he accused of racism. But the subsequent enquiry -- conducted by the FA -- found Evra’s testimony to be “exaggerated and unreliable.”

The dispute would appear to revolve around Suarez’s use of the word “negrito” which is evidently being treated as equivalent to the “n” word. Something that Suarez -- and a substantial body of supporters from Uruguay -- say is ridiculous.

Suarez has maintained total innocence from the start. He is receiving solid support from his club Liverpool, which has issued a strong condemnation of the FA verdict: “It appears to us that the FA were determined to bring charges against Luis Suarez, even before interviewing him at the beginning of November. Nothing we have heard in the course of the hearing has changed our view that Luis Suarez is innocent of the charges brought against him and we will provide Luis with whatever support he now needs to clear his name.”

That was followed by an equally strong statement of support from all the Liverpool players: “Luis Suarez is our teammate and our friend and as a group of players we are shocked and angered that he has been found guilty by the FA. We totally support Luis and we want the world to know that. We know he is not racist.”

But all those brave words will count for nothing unless Liverpool takes the obvious step: It must lodge an appeal against the FA verdict.  So far, it has not taken any action.

15 comments about "The Suarez Verdict: A Rush to Justice?".
  1. Bob Escobar, December 22, 2011 at 12:29 a.m.


  2. Efrahim Fernandez, December 22, 2011 at 8:43 a.m.

    It is unfortunate but words like "Negrito" in Spanish do not translate to the " N " word used here in the states. There does appear to be a bias against all players not English. I was watching Fulham vs Man U and when Dempsey went up for a header he inadvertently caught the Man U player with an elbow. The English commentator accused him of doing it intentionally.. Wow how many times does Rooney go up elbow high ? These incidents will only push players like Suarez to chose LA Liga, Serie A where the weather its far better.

  3. Charles O'Cain, December 22, 2011 at 9:25 a.m.

    Paul is again on the wrong track here, as an apologist for the behavior of Suarez at worst, but more probably to again display his anti-EPL/FA/anything British bias. Whatever Suarez said to Evra, one can be certain it was not a term of endearment, and was in all probability specifically calculated to enrage the Frenchman, which it did. It was not simply "clumsy speech" but rather malicious, and in my view this is much more reprehensible from the sporting point of view than the truly clumsy challenge (I think that's the worst one could possibly say about it) of Shawcross on Ramsey. Perhaps Evra is a little touchy (the French don't suffer insults lightly; witness Zidane/Materazzi, Anelka/Domenech, etc), but to excuse the behavior of Suarez on "cultural" grounds ignores the culture of Evra and of other historically abused peoples. I have abandoned words I heard regularly (and I am ashamed to say occasionally used) during my formative years in the American South. Maybe there are some words Suarez should forget also. That they may be "tolerated" in La Liga does not excuse their use, even if the weather IS better.

  4. Albert Harris, December 22, 2011 at 10:57 a.m.

    I think Super Man might be referring to Luis Aragones, Bob, who famously tried to gin up his players by referring to Thierry Henry as "that black sh*t". Pretty egregious, I must admit. Does anyone know if the almighty FA is even investigating their captain or are they washing their hands of the whole thing since the police are involved...or because he's English, take your pick?

  5. Gus Keri, December 22, 2011 at 10:58 a.m.

    Paul: Liverpool has not appealed yet because they are waiting the written report. They will have 14 days from the time they recieve that report, as I understand it. It might take for a couple of months before we hear the end of it.

  6. Joe Bailey, December 22, 2011 at 11:52 a.m.

    Paul is already taking Luis' side already. While I agree somewhat with his campaign against the legitimacy of thuggery in soccer, especially from Britain, I grow tried of his being a constant apologist for the dark side of Latin soccer. Yes, Evra isn't the Bob Backlund of Football but to pretend that Luis calling him Negrito 10 times was just him referring to Evra in an affectionate, innocent term that was blown out of proportion is really bad. Suares, and his actions from the past couple of years doesn't make him poster boy for the game either. Paul, you've lost your credibility with me...

  7. Tyler Dennis, December 22, 2011 at 1:09 p.m.

    This has Villas-Boas written all over it... he's pushing behind the scenes to get Suarez a big suspension hoping that the FA will then have to suspend John Terry for a similar amount of games. Thereby, relieving Boas from the unpleasantry of sitting Terry.

  8. Millwall America, December 22, 2011 at 2:05 p.m.

    I think Suarez' behavior deserves a sanction. However, it seems odd to me that Suarez would have been suspended for fewer games (probably three) if he'd punched Evra in the face than he ended up getting for calling Evra a dirty word. This deserves a two game suspension (one less than for violent conduct) plus a fine. An eight game suspension is political correctness run amok.

  9. James Cross, December 22, 2011 at 3:02 p.m.

    Paul - keep up the good work - enjoy your column a lot. However, I must disagree with you on this one. The word "negrito" in the spanish culture has many meanings. On the soccer field it is meant in a degaratory manner. One would not refer to a white or non-black latin player as "blanquito" (white) no matter how angry one gets on the field - it just does not happen. So why use the word "negrito" when refering to a black player. In a degaratory manner "negrito" is used to insult or demean a black person.

  10. Eric R., December 23, 2011 at 11:27 a.m.

    Millwall makes a good point about the comparison to violent conduct. I believe they should be equal, not "one less", but the comparison is fair. I can tell you as a Caribbean Hispanic having visited South America and many friend-soccer players from Central America, that referring to another player as a "negrito" is demeaning and derogatory.

    I applaud the EPL for taking steps to end this behavior. It is not okay. Not even a little bit.

  11. Brian Something, December 23, 2011 at 12:42 p.m.

    I am certain that homophobic slurs occur regularly in football matches in England (and elswhere). Would the FA ever even investigate such a case, let alone punish it as severely as Suarez? Or are some forms of bigotry more tolerable than others?

  12. Jogo Bonito, December 28, 2011 at 6:59 p.m.

    Obviously racism should never be tolerated, but I'm not a fan of well-publicized anti-anything campaigns. More marketing than substance usually. I will admit that I have a bad prejudice problem that I'm working on as well. I can't stand the English. I know some wonderful English people, but as a coach in the USA it's hard group for me to like. Despite a mediocre international record since 1966, the English coaches in the USA are quite sure they have it all right. I guess it may be because unknowing Americans will buy anything sold to them using that annoying accent. Like car wax or an "amazing" set of steak knives or the very useless Jupiter Jack! In over 20 years coaching, I have know of 2 English coaches that I respect. Compared to the 75-100 well-shaved, clean as a whistle, 3-lion-wearing charlatans that I have had endure over the years. Annoying people.
    I love reading Paul Gardner (yes, I know he's English) so since I have little knowledge of this issue, I will side with him .... oh and one more thing: that idiot "Super Man" that comments on here may possibly the stupidest human on earth.

  13. Gak Foodsource, December 31, 2011 at 4:42 p.m.

    Here is the link to the 150 plus page report issued by the FA, including testimony from expert linguists and regional dialect experts:

  14. Charles O'Cain, January 2, 2012 at 10:15 a.m.

    Thank you, Gak Foodsource, for the above link. It's a long but interesting read. I wonder whether or not Mr Gardner will take the time to review it in full, and perhaps to amend his "Rush to Apology" . As it is written predominantly in English, and given his aversion to all things English, it is doubtful that he will.

  15. Talley Berry, January 20, 2012 at 9:21 a.m.

    I'm on team Super Man. And Tyler's AVB comment is brilliant as well. Paul...what the hell is extreme anti-racism?

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