As stated in my Stick It In The Mixer post, football does occasionally, and unfortunately, have a dark and sinister side which is the focus of this article.
On 15th October 2011, Liverpool played their fierce rivals Manchester United at Anfield. In the 58th minute of the match, Luis Suarez fouled Patrice Evra. Five minutes later, Liverpool won a corner where it was Evra’s responsibility to mark Suarez. They had a heated verbal exchange, in Spanish, along the goal line. The linesman pointed this out to the referee via headset, so the man in-charge called the two players over. He spoke to them both and let them return for the corner. As they returned to the penalty area, Suarez put his hand on the back of Evra’s head which Evra forcefully pushed away. Both players were immediately called back to the referee for another talking to but then returned for the corner to be taken. The game ended 1-1.
Immediately after the full-time whistle, Evra complained to the referee and then to his team mates in the changing room about what had happen. Once Sir Alex got wind of this, he took Evra with him to the referees room complaining that Suarez ‘had called him (Evra) a n*gger five times’ (as per the official Commission’s report).
After studying all the available evidence, the FA charged Suarez on 16th November 2011 “for using abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Evra contrary to Rule E3(1), and that this breach of Rule E3(1) included a reference to Mr Evra’s ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race within the meaning of Rule E3(2) (“the Charge”).”
Between 14th-20th December, an independent Regulatory Commission deliberated over the charge brought by the FA and their report has now been published on the FA’s website. The Commission showed both Clubs their findings on 30th December 2011.
The FA’s case was as follows. In the 63rd minute, Liverpool won a corner and it was Evra’s responsibility to mark Suarez. He was angry about the earlier foul (Evra had damaged the same knee in the past) so Evra said to Suarez “Concha de tu hermana, porque me diste un golpe?” which is translated as “F****** hell / Son of a B****, why did you kick me?” Suarez is accused as replying “Porque tu eres negro” translated as “because you are black”. Evra then said “say it to me again, I’m going to punch you”. Suarez replied “No hablo con los negros”, translated as “I don’t speak to blacks”. Evra continued his threat to punch Suarez so the Uruguayan replied “Dale, negro, negro, negro” meaning “okay, blackie, blackie, blackie”. Whilst saying this Suarez reached out to touch Evra’s arm gesturing at his skin. Kuyt then jumped inbetween the pair. When the ref called the players over to him, Evra, said to the ref “ref, ref, he just called me a f****** black”. The referee took no action, but did instruct Evra to calm down.
In Suarez’s version of events, he agreed that they spoke in Spanish in the goal mouth but denies that he ever said negro during this time. He did, however, admit to saying negro once when Evra said to Suarez ‘Dont touch me, South American’ with Suarez saying “Por que, negro” meaning “why, black” after Suarez had put his hand around Evra’s head following the first talking to from the referee. Evra has always refuted the claim that he called Suarez a “South American” which has been backed up by experts.
Given that the entire confrontation was in Spanish, the FA did bring in two language experts to “prepare a report on linguistic and cultural interpretations of the word ‘negro’ and ‘negros’ in Rioplatense Spanish.” The experts used are specialists in Latin American cities, race, ethnicity, urban politics and cultures. Suarez claimed that he used the term ‘negro’ in a friendly manner as in his native Uruguay it is a term that can be used to describe someone as dark-skinned or even someone who has dark hair. The language experts reiterated this and also pointed out that there were other words used in Latin America which could be lost in translation when used in Europe. For example, in Colombia the term ‘Mono’ is frequently used to describe someone who is light-skinned or having hair lighter than black. The literal translation for ‘Mono’ is monkey. However, there is also a flip side. Unsurprisingly, there are black people in Latin America who object the use of the term ‘negro’ as it highlights skin colour when that is irrelevant.
Suarez’s defending QC predictably made reference that Suarez was brought up in an area where many of the residents, and his friends, were black. Suarez’s own grandfather was black. In addition, Suarez’s own wife calls Suarez himself “negro” in reference to his younger days when he had darker skin. Furthermore, Suarez played at Ajax for four seasons where a number of his team mates were black, who he was good friends with and socialised regularly. In his final year in Holland, he was made captain and voted Dutch Footballer of the Year. His QC stated that this is an honour which he would not have earned if there was even an inkling of any racial slurs from the Uruguayan. I find this last sentence particularly weak given John Terry’s continuous misdemeanours. Still the captain of Chelsea and a fixture in the England team I believe.
The QC then pointed the finger at Evra, saying that there were a number of incidents in the first half which wound up Evra and that the Suarez foul in the 58th minute was the tipping point. The first half incidents relate to Evra losing the coin toss before kick-off which he disputed with the referee; unsuccessfully asking for Downing to be cautioned in the 12th minute after the England winger had passed Evra and then tumbled without a challenge; responding by shrugging his shoulders to something which was possibly said to him by someone in the crowd during a throw-in which he took and; in first half stoppage time Evra challenged Kuyt and gave away a free kick, with Evra complaining to the referee about the decision.
The Commission decided that the following tests would determine whether the FA’s charge should be upheld. Demeanour; inconsistency and; probability.
The test of demeanour was to determine the witness’ credibility. Evra was considered to be an “impressive witness” as he never shied away from the fact that he initiated the goal line verbal exchange which could have reflected bad on him, plus he defended Suarez, claiming that he did not believe that Suarez was a racist. Suarez, on the other hand, answered poorly during the hearing as he was not always clear or addressed the question. Both men were given interpreters, which Suarez used as he knows little English, but Evra did not used his interpreter, speaking in English the whole time.
Video evidence provided at the hearing did not prove either parties claims as to what had been said. It did, however, help with inconsistencies with other evidence.
The video showed Suarez with a hostile look on his face, speaking forcefully at Evra whilst eyeing him up and down before pinching Evra’s forearm. It was part of the FA’s case that Suarez pinched Evra’s arm as a racial slur about Evra’s colour. However, this was thrown out by the Commission as Evra couldn’t even remember the pinch until he saw it for himself on video. Furthermore, Suarez initially said that he pinched Evra to calm the situation, however upon cross-examination, Suarez said that he pinched Evra to explain why he had fouled him and not because he wanted to calm the situation.
The Commission found that there were a number of changes in Suarez’s witness statement compared to his initial statement’s straight after the match to Daniel Comolli (who spoke with Suarez, due to his fluency in Spanish, once it became apparent that Evra was putting in a complaint to the match officials).
In terms of probability, Evra’s claims stacked up as four of his team mates supplied evidence which was consistent with his own including Fergie’s comments when he ran straight to the officials room, post match, to complain that Evra had been racially abused five times.
Upon weighing up the evidence from match officials, video footage, management and the players, the Commission concluded that they “preferred the evidence of Mr Evra”. They added, “We found that Mr Evra’s account is probably what happened.”
“We do not believe that Mr Suarez meant it when he said that he had kicked Mr Evra because he was black or that he did not speak with blacks. The comments were made in the heat of the moment. They were not said with the deliberate intention of getting Mr Evra sent off.”
“When provoked, Mr Suarez overstepped the mark and responded in a way which is unacceptable. His actions are not excused by the fact that it was Mr Evra who started this particular confrontation, although this was the context in which Mr Suarez made the objectionable comments.”
In determining punishment, the Commission determined that in the case of a breach of rule E3(2) a player will suspended for two games should they be sent off during a game due to usage of insulting language, which does not include reference to ethnic origin, colour or race. Given there was reference to colour, the suspension is then doubled so the suspension became four matches. Then there came the consideration of any aggravating factors which carries a penalty greater than four game suspension. There were several factors here. Firstly, Suarez used the term ‘negro’ or ‘negros’ on more than one occasion; secondly, when Suarez replied that he kicked Evra “because he was black” he was using more than just the term ‘negro’ plus in this context, it would be considered racially offensive in Latin America according to the Spanish experts; thirdly, the misconduct was aggravated through the physical act of pinching Evra’s arm (although Evra didn’t remember it happening, video evidence shows that it did) and the hand around the back of Evra’s head; fourthly, the FA invests significant resources in its ‘Kick It Out’ anti-racism campaign, so this is not a matter to be taken lightly and; finally, Suarez’s comments were aimed at one player in particular. They were specific to an individual rather than being generalised comments.
The Commission did admit that there were mitigating factors such as Evra’s initial comments in the goal mouth. However, it was decided that a fitting punishment for the crime would be an eight game suspension, £40,000 fine plus legal costs. Both lesser and greater punishments were considered.
Liverpool decided against an appeal but provided a fierce statement to the FA. “It is our strongly held conviction that the Football Association and the panel it selected constructed a highly subjective case against Luis Suárez based on an accusation that was ultimately unsubstantiated,” the club said.
“In its determination to prove its conclusions to the public through a clearly subjective 115-page document, the FA panel has damaged the reputation of one of the Premier League’s best players, deciding he should be punished and banned for perhaps a quarter of a season.
“This case has also provided a template in which a club’s rival can bring about a significant ban for a top player without anything beyond an accusation.”
They do have a point in their argument, after all no-one other than Suarez and Evra themselves could provide evidence as to what was actually said. However, Liverpool do seem to have turned a blind eye to the fact that Suarez admitted to using insulting language, albeit once, in regard to another player’s colour during the game therefore you can understand the severity of the punishment. . Regardless of South American custom, this behaviour is NOT acceptable in Britain, plain and simple. All professional football clubs, and all sports clubs for that matter, have a duty of care to educate playing staff, coaches and other club staff as to how they should behave.
Ultimately this punishment was a statement of intent that any form of racism will not be tolerated in the English game and it sets a precedence going forwards. Football is an industry that is full of role models to today’s youngsters who, in turn, will be the role models of tomorrow. The correct message is being sent out here. Luckily Sepp Blatter did not make it into the Commission. What does make things interesting is the pending case for John Terry and Anton Ferdinand. There’s no language barrier there so I would expect the matter to be dealt with swiftly by the CPS. Terry, if found guilty, should be suspended for remainder of the season by the FA.