Suarez-Evra Affair Not All Black and White

This was written in the period between Luis Suarez being found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra and the infamous 115-page document the FA’s Independent Panel produced. As such the vacuum of leadership and justice in this period should be recognised…

One of the most controversial and intricate disciplinary cases in Premier League history finally came to a head on Tuesday as the Football Association handed Liverpool’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez an eight-game ban and a fine of £40,000 after finding him guilty of using ‘insulting words that included a reference to colour,’ to Frenchman Patrice Evra during Liverpool’s clash with Manchester United in October.

An eight-game ban implies that there is absolute guilt on the part of Suarez, but this completely ignores the cultural and linguistic nuances which have caused this case to rumble on for the best part of ten weeks.  As severe as the suspension is, the fine of £40,000 – less than the Uruguayan earns in a week – is negligible.

The most alarming issue to have emerged from this saga is a procedural injustice that is both stark and alarming; the word of the accuser has been believed over the word of the accused. With the FA yet to reveal their reasoning behind the punishment, Liverpool were quick to denounce the decision and issue their own interpretation of the investigation:

“We find it extraordinary that Luis can be found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone when no-one else on the field of play – including Evra’s own Manchester United teammates and all the match officials – heard the alleged conversation between the two players in a crowded Kop goalmouth while a corner kick was about to be taken.”

“It is key to note that Patrice Evra himself in his written statement in this case said ‘I don’t think that Luis Suarez is racist’.  The FA in their opening remarks accepted that Luis Suarez was not racist.”

Suarez’s image and reputation has been regularly attacked in the British press this season; mainstream journalism has delighted in scorning his theatrics on the pitch and drawing attention to an apparently sulky on field demeanour, which is borne more out of a fierce will to win, rather than petulance.

It is only right that the FA had to take a careful and considered approach towards this investigation, yet in taking over ten weeks to reach a decision a frenzied circus around the Uruguayan has, rather unintentionally, been cultivated.  His every move has been heavily scrutinised and whipped up by a blood-thirsty media.

Suarez still faces an FA charge into misconduct for an ‘obscene gesture’ towards Fulham fans earlier this month, in a manner similar to which Ashley Cole, Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney have previously escaped punishment.

Liverpool’s claim that Suarez’s guilt was premeditated is illustrated by the back page of the Mirror, emblazoned with the word ‘RACIST’, which is highly sensationalised, factually inaccurate (as the FA and Evra have both testified) and potentially libellous.

It’s staggering that, given the influence these newspapers and journalists hold as the primary commentators on football in this country, they have so openly castigated Suarez whilst the FA still waits to publish the reasoning behind the verdict.

Suarez has been found guilty of using ‘insulting words that included a reference to colour,’ and though many, including the ‘Kick it Out’ campaign have assured the public that Suarez is not racist, such sensationalist headlines serve only to distort the truth further.

Whilst it would be grossly inappropriate to suggest that there has been a campaign against Luis Suarez akin to a conspiracy theory, or even a witch-hunt, it is almost unavoidable given the process the investigation has taken and the way in which the media has trumpeted the FA’s decision, when sufficient evidence has not been forthcoming.

The length of the sentence has been lauded in certain sections of the media as a landmark moment in the FA’s commitment to kicking racism out of football, but could an outside observer really be satisfied that justice has been reached, beyond a reasonable doubt, given the resounding lack of evidence?

The same section of the media are praising the FA for supposedly standing up to UEFA and FIFA, particularly in the wake of Sepp Blatter’s dubious claim that racism on the football pitch can be solved with a handshake. But it betrays the entire morality of the ‘Kick it Out’ campaign for it to be mutated into a political message against a higher authority that has previously been perceived to treat such sensitive cases with blatant disregard.

The length of sentence is inconsistent with previous cases under the ‘Kick it Out’ mantra; if this organization seeks to make examples of high profile players then surely it is insincere and undermines what is undeniably a worthy cause?

The argument can be made that Suarez knowingly, and he himself has acknowledged this, made reference to the colour of Evra’s skin. Suarez’s honest admission of the use of the word negrito’ suggests naivety on his part but also that he himself felt he had nothing to hide, which is where the linguistic and cultural nuances of Latin American culture come into play, because in that context the word is not racist.

One has to hope that the Commission has reached its verdict after careful consideration of the evidence and intricacies of the charge, rather than as an opportunity for the FA to score a political point and make an example of the South American.

Yet there is no escaping the fact that the FA has reached its decision without witnesses, whilst the accuser, Evra, happens to be someone previously described by an FA panel as giving ‘exaggerated and unreliable’ evidence.

This is not an attempt to exonerate Suarez, because undeniably he should have known better having been plying his trade in North European football for four years now and having previously captained a multi-ethnic Ajax side, but an attempt to call into question the process and procedure of the investigation itself, in which a fair hearing, was arguably unfeasible.

A farcical situation has now been reached where the FA, having decided upon Suarez’s guilt, have failed to publish their written reasons, and as of this moment there seems to be an indefinite timescale for its release. The FA has a responsibility to clear up the uncertainty surrounding this furore, yet they have created a vacuum within which hearsay and rumours will flourish.

To claim that Liverpool Football Club are solely motivated by a desire to reduce the ban on their star player is to miss the point entirely. The club is primarily concerned with clearing Luis Suarez’s name amidst what they perceive to have been procedural injustice, something just as abhorrent as racism.

What is clear from Liverpool’s statement, the indignant reaction of the Uruguayan press and Suarez’s imminent appeal is that this issue will rumble on and on; the ten weeks that it has taken for this judgement to be reached reflect the complexities, intricacies and sensitivities of a case that has gripped not just English football, but world sport. What odds it will be another ten weeks until the written reasoning is publicised, or even until Suarez’s appeal is heard?

Luis Suarez will now forever be tarnished by this claim, a stain on his reputation which will most likely prove to be irrevocable, a shame for such a prodigious talent whose football has captivated the audience but whose character has seemingly infuriated a nation.


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