Perhaps it is a little too early to pen an article about Luis Suarez and the FA while the toxic fallout to his eight game ban continues. Nonetheless, it is hard to ignore the ramifications that go a lot further than the beautiful game.
Details of why the FA charged Suarez are sketchy, partly due to their reluctance to release their evidence, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the three man panel’s decision rested on the claim that Suarez referred to Evra as “negro” or “negrito”.
We live in a Western society that is afraid to refer to race. If someone asked you to point out a black person in a street full of white people, chances are you would feel inclined to try and describe his clothes as opposed to his race. It is this cultural reticence that has dictated the FA’s decision. Our form of multiculturalism is one which tries to ignore the fact that people have different skin colours.
Luis Suarez is not from Western Europe. Insights into Uruguayan culture in light of this whole mess have been enlightening. In Uruguay, people don’t wince when a black person is called black. Uruguayan football commentators refer to players by a distinguishing characteristic – the Bolivian! The Argentine! The black!
There is a reason why Uruguay is up in arms about the FA’s decision. Uruguayan striker Sebastián Abreu was not exaggerating when he said that Suarez has “three million Uruguayans behind him.” These three million people, amongst many others, are outraged that something that is the norm in their country is being treated so contemptuously by the English FA and English journalists.
There is no doubt that it is an alien concept to many of us that you can idly call someone black and not get any funny looks. However, if Suarez did call Evra “negro” or “negrito” he had no idea that this was offensive. John Barnes, a man who suffered horrific racist abuse throughout his career, believes “ignorance is an excuse.”
That’s what it ultimately boils down to. Suarez isn’t aware of the attitudes to race in England. He doesn’t realise the media are hung up about it, as is our government and public bodies. In Uruguay, it is acceptable to call a black person black, whereas in England it often is not.
Suarez is not wrong. He has a different culture, he comes from a different place. People in the north of England are different to people from London. People from London are different from people from Belfast. People from a far flung part of South America are different from people in Europe.
The Football Association, however, has refused to acknowledge this difference, nor accept it. Uruguayan culture isn’t quite there yet. Our attitudes reign supreme. It really is quite distasteful to think that this panel has sat down and considered how race is treated in Uruguay only to decide that an entire people are wrong.
The Suarez saga is bigger than football. It is about a clash of cultures, misunderstanding, self righteousness and fairness. The FA have opened a can of worms. It is not the FA’s place to call another country’s cultures and attitudes racist. Fear of race will forever stymie true progress on anti-racism campaigns in England.