Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan who plays for Liverpool, has been charged by the English FA with discriminatory remarks he allegedly made against Patrice Evra of Manchester Untied. The striker does not deny having made the remarks, but he claims cultural differences, as in Uruguay and South America, you use those words in an affectionate and friendly way.
I am from South America, I am from Argentina, and as one from those parts of the world, I understand what Suarez is trying to do here. In my country, we love nicknames, not only for football teams and players. It runs deeper than that, it goes from school friends, to work colleagues, to family members, general friends, etc. It is not unusual to use nicknames that are accepted to us, but that would be considered offensive everywhere else in the world.
The use of monikers is so widespread and common, that throughout my life I have met many people of which I have never even knew their real names. At school in my class we had “el gordo (the fat one)”, “el petiso (the short one)”, “el chino (the chinese one)”, “el turco (the Turkish one)” In my various football teams we had: “el lungo (the tall one)”, “corchito (little cork, describing someone short and fat)”, “el cabezon (the big head one)” At Uni, we had: “el pelado (the bald one)”, “pito corto (small penis)”, “el ruso (the Russian)”
As you see, a great variery there, mainly reflecting a particular characteristic of their looks or bodies, or where they came from. Even those who were called those names introduced themselves to others by that appellation. But like most things in life, there are some rules. To a team mate of mine, with who I train , play and socialise with, I can call him, under his approval, “negro (black one)” in an affectionate way. But under no circumstances, will he, feel the same way, if a rival called him that.
In South America and in Argentina and Uruguay in particular, this line is crossed very often. We go from the friendly to the offensive with total impunity. The songs from the terraces are mainly, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and all the rest of the “obics” that may exist. It is not the words themselves that should be judged, but how and who they were said to, that has to be looked at. For example, when the Bolivian ex player Milton Melgar, played for Boca Juniors, their fans were always saying “the bolita (insulting word for Bolivians in Argentina) is a great player”. However when he moved to River Plate, the same Boca fans described him only as a “bolita”. The difference is clear there.
I am not sure I like a 100% politically correct world, but any word or phrase that carries a discriminatory and inflammatory meaning regarding someone’s, race, country of origin, religion, sexual tendency, etc, should be punished in the strongest possible way. The history of our world tells us that any time that we have turned a blind eye to any kind of discriminatory behaviour, things turned out real bad. Suarez, comes from a culture similar to mine, and only 12 minutes flight from where I grew up. Both nations share the same traditions and the same codes.
I know that if I was playing against Manchester Untied, Patrice Evra would not think that I was being friendly or affectionate towards him if he heard me using the “N” word whilst referring to him. Suarez, will know that fine well too! I don’t even condone the behaviour of the Chacarita fans in Buenos Aires when they sing to their eternal rivals Atlanta (who have their stadium in a neighbourhood popular with Jewish people) that they have come to their stadium to “kill jews to make soap” or other songs calling Brazilians “N***** and Gay”.
But the fact is that these acts go unpunished in Argentina. Nobody is ever made accountable for it. Not those who sing them, not the clubs, not the police, not the authorities neither. England (a country that the Argeninean FA president refers to as “the pirates”-see where the nicknames and discrimination comes from?) has worked very hard to eradicate racism from society in general, which obviously included zero tolerance in football too.
Because of that hard work, is that the English people don’t see with good eyes when the cases of John Terry, Luis Suarez and even Sepp Blatter cross the line of tolerance defying the existing rules and laws. UEFA penalises teams and countries whose fans incite discrimination of any type. If AFA and CONMEBOL acted with such dignity, our general public, and our footballers will be better behaved and more tolerant of others.
I do not want to stop people enjoying themselves and having fun at a football stadium, as long as it is done respectfully. As you see, cultural differences shouldn’t be allowed to be used as an excuse in this case, as it is a big lie, to try to get away with a serious offence.