Luis Suárez and Patrice Evra: thoughts on the Commission’s report
And so we come to it at last: one of the most controversial sporting issues of modern times. It says a great deal for the sensitivity surrounding the Patrice Evra – Luis Suárez case that, towards the end of 2011, I was more cautious in expressing a view on this issue than I was on Israel and Palestine.
This is due, in no small part, that my personal biography marks me out as someone with a vested interest in the issue. Being both a black person and a Manchester United fan, I have as much tolerance for racial epithets as I do for being destroyed 4-1 by Liverpool on our home ground. Knowing that these facts might not make me the most objective of commentators in this case, I sought solace instead in the rigour of my legal training: accordingly, I refrained from public comment until the Commission’s full report into the matter had been released.
I am very glad that I did so. The report is highly impressive for the degree of detail that it provides. Indeed, it is a particular strength of the report that, should Liverpool choose to appeal its findings, they will know precisely the reasoning behind the charges that they are fighting. A successful fight would, I think, be a very tall order. The document is a model of transparency: having previously criticised the Football Association for the length of time that they were taking with this investigation, I must now apologise unconditionally. It is clear that such an undertaking needed this many months to complete, and I think that the Commission got this report just about right. On the balance of probabilities, they found that Luis Suárez had used insulting language to Patrice Evra during a match between Liverpool and Manchester United, and handed him an eight-match suspension and fine for £40,000.
In the interests of balance, though, let me provide the objections that have been raised by several Liverpool fans. Some have pointed out to me that two members of the Independent Commission, Paul Goulding QC and Brian Jones, are respectively, an FA lawyer and an FA board member. Goulding represented the FA in its successful appeal to reduce Wayne Rooney’s Euro 2012 ban, and Jones is the chairman of Sheffield and Hallamshire FA. Others have noted that Luis Suárez’s initial foul on Patrice Evra, which led to the heated argument where the Uruguayan used the word “negro”, was not a foul at all. They contend that Evra dived for the resultant free-kick, and that his subsequent credibility as a witness is profoundly if not fatally undermined.
But back to the report. I strongly recommend that anybody intent on wading into a chat forum or barfight over this issue first reads it from end to end. Its key section, as far as I can see, is between pages 59 and 67, when the Commission compare and contrast the consistency of the evidence offered by Evra and Suárez. Perhaps the most common comment I received last night, when posting my initial thoughts on Twitter, was that this case was simply one case of one man’s word against another.
Yet in my view, pages 59 to 67 of this report show that the issue was far, far more nuanced than that: that the testimony from Suárez seems to morph over the course of the investigation, apparently being changed to form the basis of a better defence, whilst that of Evra remains essentially unaltered. (And for those of you who are exceptionally short of time, I would direct you to paragraph 379 of the report, to be found on page 95.)
The more I think about this case, the more I am reminded that it says more about the nature of its analysts than it does about its protagonists. After all, only Evra and Suarez will ever know exactly which words passed between them; it is telling that the Commission and the two players are united in their disbelief that Suarez is a racist. Indeed, if anything, Evra is not playing the race card here; if anything, he is retracting it. It is an interesting feature of this case that Evra, having first thought that Suarez refers to him as “a nigger” – the Frenchman’s original construction of the word “negro” – publicly retracts that accusation, readily accepting instead that the word means “a black”. For what it’s worth, my view on the whole thing – to paraphrase Monty Python’s The Life of Brian – is that “Luis Suárez isn’t a racist. He’s a very naughty boy.”
I am grateful that, when called upon to make a ruling on this most complex of issues, the FA responded with – in my view – compelling logic, and complete and utter clarity. That in itself is to be celebrated. I would also like to suggest, if I may, that both Liverpool and Manchester United fans begin to look ahead. Indeed Liverpool, though they may be missing Suárez for eight matches due to his ban, have shown that they can score goals without him in the team. (There is, I believe, the small matter of a Mr. Steven Gerrard’s recent return to the ranks of the match-fit.) These last few months, both clubs have played an important part in the debate about kicking racism out of football. They would now be best advised, I think, to concentrate on kicking footballs.Tagged in: FA, Liverpool, Luis Suarez, manchester united, Patrice Evra, Premier League, racism
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