When the news of Luis Suarez’s eight game ban filtered through on Tuesday night Twitter went into overload. Fans and commentators of the game were quick to applaud the sentence handed down by the FA whilst a minority have claimed injustice and an "agenda" from the FA.
Over the past few years racism in English football seemingly has not been a large problem. Except from a few isolated incidents that clubs and the majority of fans have been quick to condemn and distance themselves from, the game has been reasonably free from this tarnish. Fans have been able to look back at the racial horrors of the 70’s and 80’s and been able to proudly claim that whilst this has not been abolished from the game completely, football has evolved sufficiently for us to believe that this is a thing of the past. Whilst I am making no attempt to claim that recent events have destroyed the excellent progress that has been made in the game, the recent FA charge against Luis Suarez; and the decision by the Criminal Prosecution Service to proceed with criminal proceedings against John Terry, has left a very bitter taste in the mouth.
I do not believe it appropriate to pass judgment against John Terry at this time. The allegations against him are serious and the Criminal Prosecution Service have rightly investigated these. No doubt by now everyone has seen the video of the incident with Anton Ferdinand however we all have the common law privilege of presumed innocence until proven guilty; and John Terry deserves this right as much as anyone else. A hearing has been set for 1st February and if John Terry is found guilty, I hope the FA will take a similarly harsh stance with him as they have Suarez and strip him of the England captaincy.
It’s the former of these two incidents that has provoked the most recent slide of public opinion from the correct stance of outright condemnation of all forms of racism, to the unsavoury area we now find ourselves in.
The speed and haste at which Liverpool has rallied to Suarez’s defence has been concerning. The club issued a lengthy statement condoning the findings of the FA and the judgment saying;
"It is key to note that Patrice Evra himself in his written statement in this case said 'I don't think that Luis Suarez is racist'. The FA in their opening remarks accepted that Luis Suarez was not racist."
"It seems incredible to us that a player of mixed heritage should be accused and found guilty in the way he has based on the evidence presented. We do not recognise the way in which Luis Suarez has been characterised."
This statement from Liverpool is difficult to understand. Firstly they are accusing the FA of having an agenda against them. Suarez has been found guilty by a three man tribunal made up of by Paul Goulding QC, an employment and sports law specialist, Brian Jones, the chairman of Sheffield and Hallamshire FA and Tony Waddington who is currently working with Stoke City’s youth team players. This is an independent panel and other than a full referral to CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) which would be inappropriate, there is no fairer way of trialling these incidents.
Secondly and more worrying, they do not seem to have grasped what Suarez has been charged under. Suarez has been charged under Rule E3 – Conduct which states as follows;
(1) A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any
one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.
(2) In the event of any breach of Rule E 3(1) including a reference to any one or more of a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability (an "aggravating factor"), a Regulatory Commission shall consider the imposition of an increased sanction, taking into account the following entry points:
At no point has Patrice Evra, Manchester United or the FA accused Suarez of being a racist. Unfortunately the full judgment from the FA hearing is not yet available but it is alleged that Suarez used the words "negro" or "negrito" towards Evra and has in fact admitted using these word. By using these words and making reference to Evra’s race, Suarez has clearly been in beach of FA rules. The old argument of him having black friends is frankly irrelevant and would seemly be more appropriate coming from a BNP spokesperson rather than a professional football club.
Britain, like much of the rest of the world has modernised its racial thinking, much work has been done by everyone to ensure that we don’t have to witness such terrible racial riots as those that took place in Notting Hill in 1958 or in Oldham in 2001.
Unfortunately racism can still be found on these shores, football and sport in general, has the weight to influence public opinion. It’s still less than 20 years since the end of Apartheid and readers of the excellent More Than Just a Game: Football v Apartheid by Professor Chuck Korr and Marvin Close, or those that have followed the recent success of the Bosnia Herzegovina national side, will know the positive impact that sport can have on bringing people together. Race should not be involved in sport, jovial or otherwise. Liverpool are supporters of the "Kick It Out" campaign, their actions so far have been managed poorly and they have missed an opportunity to influence the younger generation that see their players as role models. It is this exact generation that we need to ensure is educated the right way if we are to have any chance of ridding society of this bigotry altogether.
The supposedly comradely stance Liverpool has taken rallying round Suarez in the statements that have been released in the past 48 hours; and by wearing t-shirts depicting his face last night, have been ill thought out. Liverpool and its fans would do well to remember the not so distant past and the racism that their own John Barnes had to endure before pleading their injustice. This is a scenario which can be quietly forgotten about if Liverpool and Suarez accept the ban and apologises. By playing the victim card and pleading injustice, they are not only keeping it in the headlines for longer, but showing that whilst football may be moving on, they have not.