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A resolution to the Suárez affair cannot come soon enough

November 16, 2011

Two things happened on Wednesday afternoon which caused a lot of people to get very worked up. First of all, everyone’s favourite football administrator, Sepp Blatter, declared that racism on the pitch is no big thing and such issues can be solved with a handshake after the final whistle. Rightly, these comments provoked amazement, anger and ridicule.

Not long after this incident, the FA – not quite on the same level as FIFA but by no means a universally popular organisation – outlined a disciplinary charge against Luis Suárez. “It is alleged that Suárez used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra contrary to FA rules,” read a statement. “It is further alleged that this included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra.”

If the outrage and scorn directed at Blatter on account of his latest “he didn’t, did he?!” moment was understandable, the reaction of some Liverpool supporters to the news was downright hysterical. “They haven’t got a shred of evidence! The FA are in Ferguson’s pocked,” was a popular line. “Nice to see they’re charging Suárez but letting John Terry get off scott free!” was a similarly angry complaint. Then, of course, there were plenty calling for Evra’s head should the Liverpool number seven be exonerated.

The atmosphere on supporters’ forums and Twitter becomes particularly febrile during moments such as this. When people are able to comment instantaneously on an issue, the rush to pass judgement often comes before clear thought, as shown by the fiasco surrounding FIFA and the right of the England team to wear poppies on their shirts during the match against Spain. Liverpool have, rightly, given backing to their player, but the siege mentality which has been created does nothing to lend itself to rational thinking. Had people engaged their brains for a moment, they may have realised that the more ill-tempered responses were not particularly well considered.

Now that the charge has been brought, any evidence will have to be produced. Until now, there has been considerable doubt as to both what Suárez is alleged to have said to Evra and what he actually said – if anything at all. Now is the time for Manchester United to set out their evidence. Bringing the case to a disciplinary hearing is something that everybody should welcome. The debate can move on from snide remarks about the character and past behaviour of both players. If, as so many Liverpool fans believe (and I hope), there is no evidence to back up any accusation of racist abuse, this charge and subsequent hearing should be welcomed. If Suárez is found guilty, he should be punished. (The question of cultural misunderstandings is one for another piece.)

It should also be noted that John Terry’s case is different. The FA’s failure to charge the England captain, despite video footage allegedly showing him racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, is not down to favouritism (although there is little doubt that they would prefer the matter to go away as quickly as possible). Terry is subject to a police investigation, however, and any FA charge will have to wait until that is concluded.

There are aspects of this case which cause concern: Suárez will be seen by many as a racist, no matter the final outcome, in part because of Evra’s decision to air his grievances after the match on French TV rather than keeping the matter firmly in-house. The briefing of the media that appears to have taken place has been unfortunate and some of the language used has given the impression – deliberately or otherwise – that the Uruguayan is the guilty party (see the Independent’s headline on Monday that “Spanish slang may get Suarez off the hook“). That the FA has taken this long to investigate this issue does beg the question “what have they been doing?”.

Suárez has been charged, he will appear before an FA hearing. This fact does not mean he has been found guilty. The capacity for people to post instant reaction to events like today’s is fine when a famous figure at the top of football is being roundly condemned for ridiculous comments which appear to make light of racism in the game. When supporters turn racist abuse into a partisan issue, however, they would do well to stop and think before hitting the ‘post’ button. An outcome in Suárez’s case cannot come soon enough.

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