Luis Suarez riles me up. I’ll get it out there – I really, really don’t like the guy. But putting that aside, I want to try to look objectively at the arguments for and against his 10 match ban for violent conduct. Namely, biting an opponent’s arm.
Twitter is awash with viewpoints following the FA’s verdict. And it seems that the majority of them are that the governing body’s got this wrong, that the punishment is too harsh and that it doesn’t match precedents set before.
Here’s how I see some of those arguments.
– Precedent: A number of previous high-profile bans are being mentioned a lot: Suarez’ own 8 game suspension for racially abusing Patrice Evra; John Terry getting 4 for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand; Ben Thatcher being banned for 8 matches for viciously elbowing Pedro Mendes; and Jermain Defoe escaping with a yellow card for biting Javier Mascherano.
Let’s be clear. The FA get things wrong, frequently. And there’s an inescapable air of inconsistency about the list above.
Racism must be punished far more severely. This is a big problem, a horrendous thing to subject another human to and needs to be stopped. The sanctions handed out by the FA, up the chain to UEFA and FIFA, have been frankly pathetic over the last few years. To me, that’s a different issue which needs addressing – and I’d like to see those found guilty having the book thrown at them hard.
So sticking to violent conduct – does Suarez’s ban meet the precedents set before? The Defoe incident undoubtedly wasn’t dealt with properly. There was no excuse for him doing that in 2006 and he should have been banned for several games. Ben Thatcher’s awful elbow on Mendes earned him a hefty ban, but maybe he should have had more, given the incredible ferocity of it. The key thing with Luis Suarez is his own precedent. He’s already been banned for biting another player in the Netherlands – and was found guilty of racist abuse. Those have surely been taken into account in issuing him with a longer suspension than a player with a clean copy book. And rightly so.
– Damage: Another case for the Liverpool striker’s defence is that he didn’t cause any damage to Branislav Ivanovic. A fair point: but he certainly could have done, and arguably was trying to! While two-footed lunges, kicks, stamps and elbows are dangerous and unacceptable – there is often some vague attempt to play the ball, or at least be physical and bully an opponent. Sometimes there’s not – the intention is to hurt, and in these cases players ought to be held accountable with lengthy bans like Thatcher’s. Biting, however, could never be perceived as any attempt to ‘play the ball’ or ‘make a tackle’. There’s just never any place for it at all.
– ‘The FA are racist': My favourite argument, and one I can’t even entertain, is that the FA are ‘the real racists’ and are targeting Suarez. It’s obviously a very specific kind of racism against Uruguayans that I’m not aware of, given the previously mentioned bans for racial abuse of black players! I’m not naive enough to suggest that no-one in the FA could possible harbour racist views, but there’s no evidence the organisation is institutionally racist.
Overall, I think the ban is a fair one. It was a clearly intentional attempt to hurt a fellow player, with no effort to fairly play the game – and Suarez has a terrible disciplinary record. The key thing is consistency. Yes, the FA have got it wrong in the past. Now they have to continue this strong line against unsportsmanlike behaviour, cheating and violence – and racism. If they can do that, we can look back on this ban for Suarez and say it was right and just. If another player does something similar and gets aware with it, they lose all credibility. And we start all over again.