Luis Suárez racism hearing: Reputations at stake as panel attempt to unravel most complicated of cases
IN A North-Western hotel suite off the M6, three wise men are sitting in judgment on Luis Suárez, attempting to unravel one of the most complicated disciplinary cases ever dealt with by the Football Association.
They must rule on linguistic issues, cultural differences, body language while ensuring that the subtleties of the story are not lost amid FA politicking.
The charge facing Suárez is that he “used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour” towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra at Anfield on Oct 15. It is “alleged that this included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra”, the FA adds.
Evra, who is adamant he was racially abused 10 times, has the backing of his manager Sir Alex Ferguson and his club.
Suárez, who will admit using the word “negro” once, will argue that it is a descriptive expression, and not deemed offensive in his native Uruguay, and that it is similar to Dirk Kuyt getting called “blondie” by the South American players at Anfield.
Suárez categorically denies the racism charges and enjoys the total support of his manager, Kenny Dalglish, and Liverpool’s owners, John W Henry and Tom Werner.
The Americans will submit testimony supporting their player while Dalglish will attend the hearing in person.
Liverpool are also expected to use evidence from a linguistic expert.
In defending Suárez, Liverpool are expected to mention the incident between Evra and Chelsea’s groundstaff in 2008 which culminated in an FA hearing which concluded that “we find Mr Evra’s account exaggerated and unreliable”.
This is a case of deep detail between two well-known footballers and a broad picture of a governing body engaged in a long-running feud with Fifa president Sepp Blatter. The three men on the panel must guard against letting the FA’s desire to be seen to be strong on racism, so highlighting one of Blatter’s many weak points, clouding their judgment. Reputations are at stake.
The experienced three-man panel, which gathered on Wednesday afternoon, is chaired by Paul Goulding QC, who comes from the same Blackstones chambers as Adam Lewis, the barrister employed by the FA in Wayne Rooney’s successful Uefa appeal last week.
Goulding, a qualified FA coach, appeared for Jean Tigana in his successful claim following his sacking as Fulham manager and has advised Premier League clubs and players in the past.
Also involved is Brian Jones, the chairman of Sheffield and Hallamshire FA who wrote to all his county members on June 20, stressing the need to fight discrimination. The third member is Denis Smith, well respected within the game following his time as a defender at Stoke City and managing clubs such as Sunderland and Oxford United.
Two representatives from the FA secretariat are present but Goulding, Jones and Smith will rule on Suárez, possibly on Friday.
The allegations centre around the second half of the 1-1 draw at Anfield. Events started in the 57th minute when Suárez fouled Evra, tempers really flaring at an ensuing Liverpool corner. Amid some pushing and shoving, Evra demanded to know from Suárez why he had kicked him. Suárez replied that things happen in games and to move on.
It is here that Evra claims Suárez first became racially abusive; the Frenchman was subsequently quoted on the French station Canal Plus, saying that “there are cameras, you can see him [Suárez] say a certain word to me at least 10 times’’. Suárez categorically denies using that word, negro, in the goalmouth.
Watching events from the press box, it was pretty clear that Evra was incensed yet the players around seemed unaware of any dispute. The testimony of those closest, United’s David de Gea and Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt, will play a part.
There is an expectancy that it will be confirmed to the panel that nothing offensive was heard in the goalmouth.
Shortly after the corner, referee Andre Marriner called the pair together for a lecture. Suárez apologised and attempted to pat the United full-back on the head. “Don’t touch me, you South American,’’ Evra is alleged to have said. To which, the Uruguayan replied: “Porque, Negro?’’
Suárez’s defence rests on the argument that such expressions are commonplace in South America. It is considered offensive, according to Suárez’s defence, only when used with a pejorative adjective or when the tone is aggressive. Footage of Suárez’s body language will be scrutinised by the panel.
This will inevitably form part of Liverpool’s case, that when Suárez did use the word “negro” he was not in aggressive mood, more apologetic towards Evra.
Yet Suárez must prove he was unaware of the sensitivity towards the word “negro” in England. The former Ajax player will also have to explain why, having lived for three years in Holland, he had still to grasp northern European intolerance to such a word.
Despite Marriner’s intervention, Evra remained furious. When he caught Kuyt two minutes later, Evra responded to Marriner’s caution by allegedly claiming: “You’re only booking me because I’m black.’’
Suárez is bemused by the case. “I called him something his team-mates at Manchester call him, and even they were surprised by his reaction,’’ Suárez claimed in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
Much will depend on whether Liverpool can convince the panel that Suárez does not have racist tendencies.
They are expected to point out that Suárez made a video in South African townships during the 2010 World Cup called “From the Streets to the Fields”. He hails football’s “tremendous power of joining people, without any skin, religion and social discrimination”.
Liverpool’s work in combating racism is sure to be mentioned. As is their owners’. Henry has been instrumental in celebrating the life of Jackie Robinson, the legendary black baseballer, at the Boston Red Sox which he owns.
In focusing on increasing diversity at Fenway Park and funding school scholarships for those from disadvantaged parts of Boston, Henry told National Public Radio in October that “we have to make a statement not just in baseball but in our community that diversity is an issue that hasn’t been fully addressed in the past and certainly has to be fully addressed.
"I think it’s important what your actions are. That will really define the franchise going forward’’.
Liverpool’s reputation would be damaged if Suáarez were found guilty of such a heinous offence.
That is why the panel must stay clear-eyed, ignoring FA tensions with Blatter over racism. Goulding, Jones and Smith must focus on one man’s word against another, and whether to accept cultural differences.