COMMENT: The hysterical reaction to the forward’s four-month ban is understandable, given Pepe’s previous misdemeanours were not considered when he was sanctioned
By Mark Doyle in Brazil
“It’s a breach of human rights … barbarity,” according to Diego Lugano. “They might as well handcuff him and throw him in Guantanamo,” fumed Diego Maradona.
It’s fair to say that the reaction to Luis Suarez’s suspension for biting Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay’s World Cup win over Italy last week has been ridiculously over the top. Rational analysis of the severity of the ban has been difficult amidst such hysteria.
However, while the hyperbolic views of Lugano and Maradona would be laughable were they not so offensive to those whose human rights are actually being violated on a daily basis across the globe, there is no denying that a not insignificant number of people within football believe the ban to be “excessive”.
Indeed, what those defending the four-month suspension from all “football-related activity” seem to find even more stupefying than the fact that Suarez has bitten an opponent for a third time, is the groundswell of support for the forward, which extends beyond the boundaries of his native Uruguay.
However, while the striker’s crime is as indefensible as it is inexplicable, the argument that he has been treated differently to his peers is understandable – because he has been.
Nobody is disputing the fact that Suarez deserved to be sanctioned. Banning a repeat offender for four months for biting could not normally be considered excessive, as it is a reprehensible act worthy of a significant suspension. But in this instance it could be argued that the punishment is too severe, and the issue is the inconsistency.
Firstly, there is the fact that Suarez’s suspension extends beyond international football. Not only will he miss his country’s next nine competitive fixtures, he will also be unavailable to his club, Liverpool, until the end of October. That move was motivated by the fact that this is Suarez’s third offence. The argument goes that they had to send a clear message that something as contemptible as biting is simply not acceptable within the game. Consequently, they came down hard on Suarez. Which is truly fair enough … except for the fact that they blindly chose to ignore previous misdemeanours when it came to considering how long to suspend Pepe for after the defender was dismissed during Portugal’s 4-0 loss to Germany.
Pepe’s career has been characterised by random acts of aggression – yet he was only ordered to serve the mandatory one-game ban for headbutting Thomas Muller. Why was Suarez’s rap sheet taken into account – and not Pepe’s? Of course, Fifa found Suarez had exhibited a disturbing and complete absence of “any contrition or repentance” (Suarez’s claim that he simply “lost his balance” insulted the intelligence of not only the victim, Chiellini, and Fifa’s disciplinary committe, but everyone who witnessed it) but then, Pepe maintains that he did not deserve a red.
Furthermore, Cameroon midfielder Alex Song’s suspension for a similarly unprovoked assault on Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic was extended to a total three games, thus ending his World Cup. Why? Why was Pepe only banned for only one game for ‘violent conduct’, and Song three? Particularly when the latter openly admitted his guilt and expressed heartfelt remorese.
The inconsistencies in the Pepe and Song cases are staggering so it is hardly surprising then, that there is a growing sense that there is one rule for the more powerful nations – and one rule for the rest. And that is why there has been uproar in Uruguay. Is there anger misplaced? Yes, of course, their fury should be directed at the man that let them down on the biggest stage of all. And it is embarrasing to hear people talk of the English media having a vendetta against Suarez, last season’s Football Writers’ Player of the Year. But those claiming Suarez has been made a scapegoat are not without reason.
Biting, of course, is a particularly savage and cowardly act and it has no place in the game. Fifa were, therefore, well within their rights to make an example of Suarez. But football has more pressing and more prevalent problems to solve, so can we now expect to see them addressed in such refreshingly firm fashion?
There are, after all, players and coaches who have spent less than four months on the touchline for doping or involvement in match-fixing. And will Fifa now finally tackle the issue of ‘simulation’, one of the scourges of the modern game? Arjen Robben has admitted that he dived during Netherlands’ last-16 win over Mexico on Sunday. We are often told that it is so hard to prove a player has intentionally attempted to deceive the referee so, now that we have a public confession, surely this is an open-and-shut case? Surely Robben should be sanctioned? Particularly as it could be argued that he, too, has ‘previous’.
Even more importantly, when exactly is Fifa going to finally take a strong stand in the fight against racism? When are we going to see clubs fined more than a few thousand euro for incidents racial abuse within their stadia?
All we really have at the moment is the well-meaning ‘Say No to Racism’ campaign but the powers that be are presently in no position to talk about issues of inequality given how inconsistently it is dealing with indiscipline.
Fifa’s disciplinary committee has, ironically enough, taken the Suarez incident as an opportunity to bear its teeth. It has set a precedent with the four-month suspension – and should be commended for doing so. But only if that precedent is now followed.
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