Luis Suarez has always had a certain knack for representing everything that is wrong about football. Racism and simulation are just two of his many undesirable traits, while we shouldn’t forget how we came to know the player in 2010 at the World Cup Quarter Final against Ghana. However on occasion, he manages to demonstrate what is entirely alien to football.
The reaction to his bite on Giorgio Chiellini on the greatest footballing stage in the world has been one of widespread outrage, yet variety. Surprisingly to some, there has been an overwhelming amount of support for the infamous Uruguayan, notably through the likes of Joey Barton and Diego Maradona (two upstanding professionals who undoubtedly live by a strict moral code themselves).
Joey Barton, who once stubbed a cigar out in a teammate’s eye, proclaimed that he would rather be bitten than receive a leg breaking tackle. This therefore implies that players should be punished according to the damage inflicted on the victim, which is ludicrous. Does this then make racism and spitting more acceptable than a fifty-fifty challenge in which one player comes out with a broken ankle?
The nature of football as a contact sport and the laws that govern the game mean that bad tackles will always happen, you consent to the possibility of a mistimed challenge when you step out onto a football pitch, as confirmed by the Court of Appeal in the case of R vs Barnes as the judge deemed that “injury is permitted because, by entering the field, the players are deemed to have taken the risk of injury that comes with the sport.” Traditionally, football has always allowed you to gain a physical or psychological advantage over the opposition by perhaps going into a tackle stronger than necessary, or by returning the favour to someone who’s done the same to you. This is all part of the game that we know and love.
Biting is common assault, ABH. There has never been, nor will there ever be, consent given by a player to be bitten on a football pitch or anywhere in society. The risk of being bitten doesn’t come with the sport. What is the difference between this and sneaking a weapon onto the pitch and striking an opponent? Both would be punished in a court of law and have nothing to do with football whatsoever. In a sport as brutal as boxing, Mike Tyson was given a $3 million fine for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear in 1997.
Tyson apologised immediately after the fight while Suarez acted as though he was the one being persecuted, now claiming that he ‘lost his balance’ and blaming the British media amongst others. First and foremost, the British media didn’t ban Suarez, FIFA did. What he did isn’t just disgraceful on a subjective level to Britain, it is universally outrageous.
This is the key problem, with Suarez there is no remorse or rehabilitation. There wasn’t even any provocation for him to bite Chiellini. Before he received his ten match ban for biting Ivanovic, he was told by Liverpool Football Club to apologise, but not because he was genuinely remorseful. If so then why would he do it for a third time and why has there been no apology this time round? This was damage limitation, not rehabilitation. Further to this, he refused to shake Evra’s hand after racially abusing him and celebrated Ghana’s penalty miss shamelessly after cheating them out of a World Cup Semi Final.
The fact that Liverpool feel aggrieved that they are left affected by the ban is also mind boggling, as they signed a player who had already served a seven match ban in Holland for biting PSV Eindhoven player Otman Bakkal.
Many talk of precedents being set and broken in order to punish Suarez further, however the biting of an opponent on three separate occasions is unprecedented in itself. Of course the punishment has to increase each time, if he is going to repeat his exact actions after a seven match ban or a ten match ban, in full awareness of the consequences, then when does he stop? At which point do we just allow him to carry on as if it’s acceptable? Chiellini of all people has come out to say that the ban is excessive, which is startling not only for this reason, but because he publicly criticised FIFA before the ban was given, falsely predicting that they won’t take any action against the player.
Furthermore, what is most frustrating about the debate surrounding the whole saga is that critics from both sides seem to feel the need to point out that he’s such a gifted player. This is completely irrelevant and shouldn’t even be mentioned. He’s gifted at a sport that his behaviour doesn’t belong in, and you can almost guarantee that if a Torquay United full back bit someone three times amongst incidents of racism and cheating, they’d almost certainly be banned from playing football.
How many more people will end up disgracing themselves in defence of this player just because he is ‘gifted’? The sacking of Kenny Dalglish stemmed from one of the most embarrassing episodes in Liverpool Football Club’s history, where they publicly backed Suarez in light of his racial abuse of Patrice Evra and wore t-shirts in support of the player. The latest victim appears to be Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, who said that he will resign from two FIFA posts in protest at the ‘excessive severity’ of Suarez’s ban.
There is no doubt in my mind that Suarez got off lightly. In the US, several states operate under the Three Strikes law, which imposes harsher sentences on habitual offenders who are convicted three times. It is not only his scandalous behaviour that shouldn’t exist on a football pitch, but the apparent consistency and uncontrollable nature of it.
This is all obviously very clear to FIFA, who must know that a lifetime ban was the suitable punishment, but couldn’t display the courage to produce it.