Two hours ago, the FA have announced that they have found Luis Suarez guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra and have given him an eight-match ban and a £40,000 fine (pending appeal).
I think that the FA have set a precedent today with this decision, that they will come to regret.
The first question that should be asked was ‘What was the evidence used to find Suarez guilty’?
As a guilty verdict has been reached, it can only be concluded that the FA were able to prove, beyond all doubt, Suarez’s guilt. But how? The full report has not been released at the time of writing, but it doesn’t seem as though the FA had much to go on.
There was no TV footage or audio of Suarez making a racist remark. None of the other players on the pitch have come forward to say they heard any racist remark leave Suarez’s mouth. The match officials heard nothing. It appears that Suarez has been found guilty on Patrice Evra’s word alone, which, while it may be the correct decision, as there’s only Suarez and Evra who know if he’s guilty or not, sets a dangerous precedent.
What could easily happen is that accusations of racism are flung around willy-nilly, with no merit, and if the FA follows the precedent they have set today, where minimal, if any, evidence is required and simply making the accusation is enough, players will be getting banned for nothing. What’s to stop, as an example, Didier Drogba accusing David Silva of racism to get him banned if Chelsea and Manchester City are in a tight title battle apart from his good character?
What seems incredible is that from all accounts, Patrice Evra, in the written statement he gave to the FA, stated “I don’t think Luis Suarez is a racist” and the FA in their opening remarks made a similar assertion, then found him guilty of racial abuse. How is it possible the FA can say someone isn’t a racist, and then find him guilty of racism?
Also, the FA's statement about the verdict stated the following “Mr Suarez used insulting words towards Mr Evra during the match contrary to FA Rule E3(1)”. Patrice Evra apparently admitted using extremely strong insults to Suarez, in Spanish, during the game (Suarez says he didn’t hear Evra saying any such insults) to the panel in this hearing. So, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not any charges will be handed down to Evra. My money’s on not.
By the way, I don’t believe the punishment Suarez is received is too severe. I think the verdict’s severe, but the punishment is far too lenient. Racism has been a scourge of society for years and we now live in an age where equal rights are protected by law. English football has worked hard to overcome many of the racist attitudes that once existed within the game, but the fight goes on. Suarez is the first top-flight footballer to be successfully charged with racism in England, so you’d think the FA would want to make a real statement to show just how unacceptable racism is, by giving Suarez a ban that is measured in months, rather than the ban given, where Suarez could be back playing in a few weeks. I doubt that Patrice Evra feels justice has been sufficiently done.
Also, the fine is laughable. The point of a fine is to act as a deterrent to others. £40,000 is chump change to a high-earning player such as Suarez, and will not act as a deterrent to any top-level player.
Liverpool have released a statement following the verdict, part of which says “It appears to us that the FA were determined to bring charges against Luis Suarez, even before interviewing him at the beginning of November” . I think there is some truth to that. Before charges were brought against Suarez, Sepp Blatter made his idiotic remarks where he seemed to downplay the importance of racism as an issue.
This led to severe pressure on the FA to take action, and they seemed determined to do so to avoid further accusations of being soft on racism. Suarez endured a trial by media, and was found guilty (it made a better story). It seems as though whatever evidence, or lack of, was presented to the FA, they were going to take action.
The fight to eradicate racism from football is such a serious one; I find it incredible that the FA could take a course of action that could possibly lead to cheap point-scoring between players and clubs, which would totally undermine the fight against racism. For such a high-profile case as this, the FA should’ve immediately, upon announcing their verdict, explained how they came to those conclusions. At present it looks as though Suarez has been found guilty on minimal at best evidence. There seemed to be substantial doubt to his guilt, so if the FA have conclusively proved otherwise, why not say how?
The FA have long since been a laughing stock when it comes to disciplinary matters. Recently, the FA made a successful appeal to reduce the ban given to Wayne Rooney for his sending off in England’s EURO 2012 qualifier in Montenegro. If a club team had made a similar appeal, they would’ve had the player’s ban extended for making such a spurious appeal. The FA’s excuse that UEFA’s rules are different to theirs doesn’t wash.
The FA’s incompetence permeated this hearing too. One member of the three-man panels used in disciplinary procedures is usually an ex-manager. In this case, that man was Denis Smith, former Sunderland, West Brom and Wrexham manager. Smith has close ties to the Ferguson family, he was close to Darren Ferguson when he managed him at Wrexham and has connections to Alex Ferguson. Indeed, one of the selling points of his autobiography was how he saved Alex Ferguson’s job.
One of the things enshrined in the British justice system is that it is not enough for justice to be done, but it should also always be seen to be done. So for the FA, out of all the ex-managers they could have picked, to manage to pick one with close ties to the manager of one of the players involved in the hearing is unbelievable, even by the FA’s standards (There is nothing to suggest Smith was anything other than totally impartial during this hearing).
Suarez still maintains his innocence, and Liverpool still stand by him, with the club statement saying “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.”
I’m sure Liverpool will appeal this decision, so Suarez’s ban will not start until any appeal is concluded.
The fight against racism has claimed its first high-profile victory today, but only time will tell if this is a real victory, or a pyrrhic one, which leads to English football becoming something akin to the Stasi in East Germany, where players can be punished just on someone else’s say so, whether there is evidence to support their claims or not.