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What Luis Suarez’ penalties mean for him, Uruguay, and his club

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Uruguay had two paths they could take heading into Luis Suarez’s disciplinary committee meeting. They could effectively throw themselves at the mercy of the court. This meant acknowledging the bite, apologizing for the incident — to Giorgio Chiellini and in public — while also, perhaps, mitigating the extent of it.

Or they could have taken on a defense that basically amounted to: “You can’t prove anything. And, besides, Chiellini isn’t a good guy.”

In some ways, the former option was precluded to them within an hour of the final whistle. Suarez himself minimized the incident, talking about how it was standard penalty-area fare. And his captain, Diego Lugano, appeared to question whether the bite every really took place.

That may have been Uruguay’s first mistake. Some clearer thinking initially — like that of their coach Oscar Washington Tabarez who simply said he hadn’t seen it and couldn’t comment — could have bought them time to pursue the admission/apology route.

Not that it would have spared Suarez a ban. Admission would have meant that he should have been sent off and that in itself would likely have got him a one-match ban. Then you’d throw in the nature of the incident, his prior record and the degree to which the committee bought his contrition and you might have ended up with something between two and four games and no ban from all football activities.


Instead, Uruguay chose the hardline option (or, as I said, it was chosen for them by some of the statements after the match). The problem with this stance — in addition to not getting mitigation through admission of guilt — is that it’s an all-or-nothing strategy. They either buy the idea that nothing of note happened or they don’t. And if they don’t, they throw the book at you.

It’s not about FIFA needing to definitely prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Suarez bit Chiellini. This is not a court of law, it’s a sporting jurisdiction. They have the freedom to operate on circumstantial evidence and the balance of probabilities. Suarez (of all people) should have known that, because it was a similar situation in the Patrice Evra case. And that’s why the hardline defense backfired.

How did FIFA arrive at nine games?

We don’t know because they don’t publish the reasoning behind the sentences inflicted. But it’s reasonable to infer that the staunch “deny everything” defense didn’t help his case and served as an aggravating factor.

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They would equally have looked at his prior record. Some legal systems don’t do this, others do; Uruguay knew beforehand that it would be taken into account. The fact that he did not appear to be responding to an immediate provocation — if you bite immediately after being punched in the face, it’s considered less serious than if you sneak up behind someone and take a chomp — also would’ve been taken into consideration.

The fact that he was charged not just with violent conduct but also unsporting behaviour adds a whole other layer to the punishment. It also separates it from other previous incidents, like Mauro Tassotti against Spain or Leonardo against the United States, both in 1994.

And the four-month ban?

I think we can chalk that up to discretionary message-sending. So great was the global outrage that they felt a global ban was necessary.

Here, to some degree, Suarez is a victim of his fame. Had it been an obscure Honduran or Iranian player in a meaningless match, it may have been treated differently. But when you have one of the most high-profile players in the world with a checkered record who happens to play his club football in a country with an aggressive and highly visible media, it won’t help your case.

My guess is that this part of the sentence will be reduced on appeal, perhaps by a month or two. Four months becomes highly penalising to his club team, Liverpool, who, frankly, have little to do with the incident. Two months or even three becomes a lot more manageable. The nine games, similarly, could be reduced, but here it will also depend on how Suarez handles himself when it comes time to make a public statement. Either way though, his World Cup will be over.

The initial confusion over whether the ban would preclude a transfer (“administrative” was the bogey term here) was cleared up pretty quickly. Suarez is free to move to another club should Liverpool choose to transfer him. That makes sense and, to my understanding, it was never really in question, more a case of the FIFA spokesperson not being 100-percent certain when initially asked.

The length of the ban will, of course, impact whatever fee Liverpool might be able to command for his services. Yet it won’t have the enormous impact some expect. Missing a chunk of games at the start of the season for clubs like Real Madrid or Barcelona (or, indeed, Liverpool, should he stay) is considerably less problematic than down the stretch in April or May.

Equally, the risk of him doing this again should not have too much of an impact on his valuation. After all, he was already a repeat offender before the latest incident. You’d imagine clubs have already factored in the risk of it occurring one more time.

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