This is the article that I wasn’t going to write. I’d picked up my keyboard yesterday to tell the world how much I objected to our ground being used as the backdrop to Liverpool’s show of collective injustice, only to decide that I probably wasn’t good enough to pull off the article that I had pictured in my mind, then Bernard pipped me to it in a much more succinct way than I would ever manage, so that was that. Or so I thought, until I saw the comments to Bernard’s article when I woke up this morning.
Just so we can be clear, I’ve not got anything against Louis Suarez, I don’t hold Patrice Evra in any higher regard. I don’t hate Liverpool or Scousers in general, in fact I count Scousers amongst my best friends (because that’s a defence, right?). If pushed I’d even go as far as telling you that I think that Suarez, probably, isn’t a racist.
But that’s not the point here is it? No matter how much Liverpool might want you to believe it, Suarez wasn’t found guilty of being a racist, he was found guilty of using abusive language towards another player and doing so with reference to the skin colour of that player. What’s more I’ve not seen any defence that says Suarez didn’t do those things rather the more subtle (and to some extents contradictory) “it’s only Evra’s word that he said it” and “well, it’s not offensive where I come from”.
It’s this second defence that makes things most interesting because it can essentially be translated as “it’s a racist act to find me guilty of a racist act” but that’s just to digress, my point is that at no stage, that I am aware of, has Suarez denied using the words he has been accused of, so for the purposes of what I am about to say, let’s assume that he did have an exchange with Evra where he used the word “negrito”.
You can google it yourself, but whatever the regional and cultural connotations of the word, this is clearly a reference to Evra’s skin colour and as much as the “term of endearment” defence is being rolled out, it’s hard to imagine that any exchange during a game between Liverpool and Man United would be so friendly as to include any reference to either party being the other’s sweetheart.
Did Evra really take offence? I don’t know, could he have taken offence? Of course he could and that’s the root of the issue here. Anyone can say whatever they want, with whatever intent they like, to whoever they like but if the other person takes offence then you’ve over stepped the mark. We’ve all said things “taking the piss” only to find that we’ve hit a raw nerve and what do we do when that happens.
Obviously I can’t speak for you, but I would suggest that an immediate “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that would offend you” would be a good way to defuse the situation. Again, as far as I am aware, at no stage has Suarez come out and said, publically or privately, that he’s sorry for insulting Evra, or to that matter explicitly said that he didn’t mean to.
So to the FA panel, presumably faced with Evra’s version of events and a statement that he felt insulted by Suarez, when they look for a denial of events do they get one? It appears not, instead of “I didn’t say that”, they get “where’s your proof?” and instead of “I didn’t mean to insult him” they get “that means something different where I come from”. And in any case, even if Suarez hadn’t meant to offend Evra, the offence was taken.
The point here being that the laws of the game are quite unequivocal on this sort of thing. Law E3(1) prohibits the use of “insulting words” and E3(2) increases the severity of breeches of the first rule when the breech includes reference to “any one or more of a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability”. Not exactly done like a kipper, but it’s a wholly reasonable conclusion that Suarez breeched both of those rules.
Of course the FA are trying to make a point and of course this might not have happened had Blatter not ham fistedly got involved, but that doesn’t make the point (that no form of racist offence will be tolerated and that it’s ok for players to come out and say they’ve been abused by another player) any less valid. Banning players, for significant periods, is a step in the right direction and will prove a damn sight more effective both on and off the pitch than waving banners, handing out stickers and wearing t-shirts.
Which brings us back to where we started with Liverpool’s unequivocal support of Suarez. At best, it’s ill judged. Ok, so they might want to point out that they don’t feel that Suarez is a racist (and as I said earlier, I suspect that they may be right) but by moving the debate onto whether he is or isn’t they are essentially saying that what he has been found guilty of doing doesn’t matter, which is wrong.
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