Defending the indefensible

Suarez LiverpoolLuis Suarez’s latest descent into a temporary bout of mania came in the form of a fairly disgusting chomp on the bicep of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, for which the FA have slapped him with a 10 game ban.

The horror of Ivanovic at his pock-marked skin will be familiar to Dutch midfielder Otman Bakkal, who Suarez last took a chunk out of in 2010. He is known as “The Cannibal” in Eredivisie. Like spitting in an opponent’s face, it is not the brutality of the act which so appals, as a leg-breaking challenge might, but the nature of the offence; animalistic, unprovoked, unhinged.

Complimented by his consistent prat-falls and handballs, Liverpool’s head honchos are reflecting on whether his huge talents, exemplified by his nomination for PFA Player of the Year last week, are enough to warrant his place at the club, bearing in mind his alarming penchant for petulance.

So, having a diving, biting, banned star striker is clearly causing a severe headache for Liverpool’s owners. But contrast that with when Suarez was accused, charged and subsequently convicted of racially abusing Patrice Evra last season, which didn’t even seem to provoke a mild twinge. In fact, Liverpool’s players paraded in Suarez t-shirts during a pre-match warm-up, and joined then manager Kenny Dalglish in providing glowing character references.

And why did this happen? Not because Suarez denied using the slur – “negro” towards Evra (although he claims he did not repeatedly use it). He simply denied that it was racist, that in his home country of Uruguay it was not offensive. Dalglish agreed, stating that:

If you get into asking a linguistic expert, which certainly I am not, they will tell you that the part of the country in Uruguay where he [Suarez] comes from, it is perfectly acceptable.

That was good enough for a proportion of Liverpool fans and others, who bemoaned that Suarez was being unfairly persecuted for a simple cultural divergence.

Consider too, the reaction to the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as Sunderland manager. The foamy-mouthed furore ceased as soon as Di Canio offered the simplest denial of any fascist sympathies – I do not support the ideology of fascism.” How this statement co-existed with multiple public stiff-armed salutes, a tattoo of Mussolini emblazoned across his back and the statement “I’m a fascist, not a racist” is less clear.

Is there anyone denying that Suarez didn’t bite Ivanovic? Is there anyone claiming, in the face in such compelling evidence, that Suarez was simply trying to give him a potato?  No, because it would be farcical, but so too was Suarez denying that calling a black man “negro” was a racist act. Perhaps, like with Di Canio, Suarez actually believed what he was saying. Di Canio seemed confused when critics drew comparisons with his uncomplicated, patriotic, peculiarly benign form of fascism with that of the murderous variety espoused by Benito Mussolini. Suarez, quite possibly, felt that the term “negro” was a playful term. But that these two men are too dim-witted to understand their own prejudices are no excuse. Aided by some quasi-philosophising in the press about what fascism in Italy really means, Di Canio too seems to have emerged from his dark period, helped by two handsome wins over Newcastle and Everton.  Providing he doesn’t bite anyone.

And the double standards are staggering. Our game is all too often unfortunately blighted by instances of racist idiots disguised as football fans, either paying their money to come and shout filth at men on a field, or causing mayhem outside the ground. When they are caught, they are mercifully banned from football grounds for life. Maybe in some cases they aren’t dyed in the wool racists, simply ignorant. That isn’t an excuse. And neither should it have been for Suarez.

As journalist Matthew Syed said of Suarez’s protestations:

I find this defence breathtakingly implausible from Suarez. He’s lived in Europe for four years — the idea that he didn’t know that this particular terminology would be deeply offensive to someone like Patrice Evra is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion.

So let’s use this opportunity that Suarez’s gnashers have granted us to re-assess what sort of man this is. Certainly one so troubled that he has twice gotten so annoyed on the football pitch so as to go and bite another person. It may well be that racists are more inclined to biting than non-racists, I couldn’t say. But just as a bite is a bite, and should be punished as such, racist abuse is racist abuse and should get the punishment it deserves. And that isn’t missing two fewer games than this latest indiscretion. He should never have even been at Anfield on Sunday.

The Author

Dominic Smith

Leeds fan and Backpage Football contributor. Strong views on things, especially the career of Antoine Sibierski.

6 thoughts on “Defending the indefensible

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  2. Hey don’t let the facts come in the way of your deluded article, no one has ever defened Suarez, they have questioned how the penal system works and if it singles him out when others with the same crimes got lesser punishments. But don’t let the facts get in the way of a drab story.

  3. You appear to believe, it appears, that a man should be banned for life on the basis of a report that relies on no factual evidence whatsoever beyond the man himself admitting to using the Spanish word that South Americans happily use when referring to men of African heritage. Nonsense of the highest order.

    First who cares what Matthew Syed said?

    Second Suarez speaks Spanish only, and lived in Holland. The ‘he’s in Europe four years’ line is an utter red herring. The word ‘negro’ is considered a racially abusive word only in English – not in Dutch or Spanish.

    Third the word ‘negro’ is simply the word for the colour ‘black’ in Spanish – not the word ‘negro’ as used in English with all its loaded meaning towards people of African ethnicity. Suarez was speaking in Spanish to Evra. To imply, as you have, that he has used the equivalent of the ‘ni##er’ insult is a ridiculous assertion.

    Fourth it’s clear you either never read the report that found Suarez guilty, or are incapable of critical thinking.

    Read it and you’ll find a study where all the evidence to the contrary finding is discounted arbitrarily.

    Read it and you’ll find no evidence whatsoever that Suarez used the word more than once – no witnesses, no video footage. You’ll find Evra also insulted Suarez’s heritage (laughably because ‘sudamericana’ has no equivalent in English that’s considered an insult, it’s considered completely irrelevant).

    Read it and you’ll find that Evra’s recollection of events changes on numerous occasions. You’ll also find the panel changed Dirk Kuyt’s quote from a statement to a question to fit their narrative and you’ll find Ryan Giggs’ evidence that he warned Evra to calm down discounted.

    Of course to address Evra as ‘negro’ like an object was wrong and deserved punishment. But like all crimes in life there are degrees and in reality there is no proof beyond conjecture and the wildly altered recollections of the man on the receiving end that what Suarez did that day was beyond the lower end of the scale.

    But because of a report based on conjecture and no actual evidence you think he should be banned for life. You must be angling for a job at the Grauniad.

  4. Hi orieldude. I wrote the piece, I’m glad that you read the piece (if nothing else!).

    I believe that the FA, based on the report of an independent panel, based on the evidence of Spanish language experts and judicial experts, found Suarez guilty of using racially aggravated language towards Evra.

    Just a couple of things – Suarez speaks fluent Dutch and a small amount of English. The two Spanish language experts in the report clearly say that the word ‘negro’ in Spanish can be offensive, it depends on the tone and context, and if used in an aggressive way could clearly be interpreted as offensive in Uruguay or other Spanish speaking countries.

    Also, you repeatedly claim that Evra’s recollection of events changes. This just isn’t true. The report praises him as a reliable and consistent witness, when it is infact Suarez whose account frequently changes, and is vague and evasive when answering questions at the hearing.

    As Evra himself said, he doesn’t think Suarez is necessarily a racist, but an independent panel found him guilty of using racist language. He never apologised to Evra, the club never apologised to Evra, and now he is scapegoated for simply following the official route when he believed he as racially abused.

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