Today, the FA began their disciplinary hearing into allegations that Liverpool’s Luis Suarez racially abused Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during the game between the two sides on October 15th. The hearing is expected to have reached a conclusion by Friday after both Evra and Suarez have given evidence.
Suarez is charged with “using abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour” towards Evra. “It is further alleged that this included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and or/race of Patrice Evra”
If Suarez is found guilty, he’ll face a stiff punishment. But the question remains, what punishment should be meted out by Liverpool?
Racism has no place in football. Any player who is found guilty of racial abuse should be given a lengthy ban, if not a permanent one. If Suarez is given a sizable ban, it would not be inconceivable that Liverpool could terminate his contract, in fact, it would be the right thing to do, as a club with the worldwide, diverse fanbase Liverpool have would not want to associate themselves with a racist.
However, that won’t happen. Suarez isn’t just Liverpool’s best footballer; he’s also their most valuable asset. He’s far too valuable in pure financial terms to be fired, Liverpool will want to get something for him. Also, this case isn’t a cut and dried case of racism, so it’s unlikely, in my opinion anyway, that Suarez will get a ban of more than 6 games (until his hearing for giving Fulham fans the finger anyway).
I don’t have a problem with the amount of time this case has taken to resolve. The FA are totally correct to take their time and thoroughly investigate any claim of racial abuse. It’s such a sensitive issue that it’s important that no mistakes are made by rushing any investigation and that the right verdict is reached.
Apparently the FA’s case their centres around Suarez’s use of the term ‘negrito’, which is what Evra seems to have heard. I’m not going to pretend that my knowledge of Spanish is sufficient to understand the nuances and differences in the Spanish language between many Spanish-speaking countries. However, I’m led to believe that in some Spanish speaking countries, including Suarez’s home nation of Uruguay, negrito isn’t generally used as a racist term, but as an affectionate one often used between friends and family members. This was evidenced somewhat by Dani Pacheco (a Liverpool and Spanish Under-21 player) sent a message on Twitter to his friend, Spain’s Thiago Alcantara, before Spain played England, at about the same time Suarez was officially charged, that began with the word negrito.
Suarez told Uruguayan media last month: ''There is no evidence I said anything racist to him. I said nothing of the sort.
''There were two parts of the discussion – one in Spanish, one in English. I did not insult him. It was just a way of expressing myself. I called him something his team-mates at Manchester call him, and even they were surprised by his reaction.''
Context is key in this case. Suarez doesn’t deny using the word negrito, but denies it has any sinister or abusive connotations, or that he used it with the aim of abusing Evra. The FA have to decide if any word or phrase that makes any reference to skin colour or ethnicity constitutes racial abuse, or whether or not there has to be some intent to offend or abuse behind those words. It is possible that Suarez used that word with the intent of abusing Evra, but it is also equally as possible that Evra heard a word that he misconstrued to have a racist meaning.
It’s difficult to see any outcome that will satisfy anyone. If Suarez is found guilty, he and Liverpool won’t be happy as he believes has done nothing wrong and, short of Suarez receiving the mother of all bans, I doubt Evra will feel as though justice has been done. If the FA decide to take no further action due to a lack of evidence, that won’t satisfy anyone. It won’t satisfy Evra, who believes he was racially abused and rightly wanted the authorities to take appropriate action; and it won’t satisfy Suarez, as with an accusation as serious as racial abuse, unfortunately, in the eyes of many you’re not innocent until proven guilty, you’re under suspicion until you can prove your innocence. People will think there’s no smoke without fire.
Despite reports to the contrary, Evra has not made an accusation of racism before. In 2006 a complaint was made to both police and the FA that Liverpool’s Steve Finnan had racially abused Evra. The complaint was made by some deaf TV viewers who believed they had lip-read Finnan making a racist comment. Evra wasn’t aware of any such comment and no charges were brought by the police or the FA against Finnan.
In 2008 Sam Bethell, a Chelsea groundsman, was accused of using racially provocative language towards Evra by some of the Man United coaching staff, during a post-match scuffle. Bethell was later cleared of using racial language, but Chelsea were fined as a result of his behaviour, and Evra was banned for 4 games for his part in the brawl. Again it should be noted that Evra did not make the accusation of racism.
Liverpool have stuck by Suarez throughout these allegations. It would stand to reason that Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool hierarchy and their legal representatives will have thoroughly debriefed Suarez on these allegations and decided what to do from there. The only reason that Liverpool will have allowed Suarez to keep protesting his innocence must be that they are satisfied there was no racist intent behind his words. If there was any doubt the club would have forced Suarez to confess that he misunderstood the seriousness of using such a term and accept whatever punishment came his way.
There isn’t any TV evidence of Suarez using the word negrito. None of the other players on the pitch or match officials heard him say it. It comes down to one man’s word against that of another man, who may not have fully understood what the first man was saying. So, if Suarez says the word he used is a term without any racial intent behind it whatsoever, how can the FA conclusively prove otherwise?
Suarez is innocent until proven guilty. I find it difficult to see how the FA can conclusively cut through the many layers of doubt that shroud this case and prove that Suarez is guilty of racial abuse. It is interesting to me that the FA included the part about using insulting words, as that is the part that can be more easily proven. The FA specialise in punishments that try to please everybody and end up pleasing nobody, so I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those is handed down in this case, with the FA dropping the racist part of the charge and finding Suarez guilty of using insulting and abusive behaviour.