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Luis Suarez | Once Bitten, Twice Shy? Nah!

Suarez was once again involved in a scandal that could potentially scar him for life. He was adjudged guilty by FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee (on 26/6/14) of biting Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s final group fixture against Italy on Tuesday.

Besides being fined an amount close to £65,000 Suarez also faces several bans, summarized as under:

Source: Tumblr

Source: Tumblr

The above sanctions, as decided by FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee have already come into force. However, either Suarez or the Uruguayan FA may lodge an appeal before FIFA’s Appeal Committee.

Fans’ Reactions

The majority of the football fans were unhappy with FIFA for being far too lenient as regards a recurring issue which, in their eyes, is inexcusable and is thus worthy of more severe sanctions.

On the other hand, the Liverpool fan-base accuses FIFA of being corrupt in this particular regard, claiming the Disciplinary Committee had no authority to impose a ban on domestic competitions and that the same should have been restricted to Suarez’s services for Uruguay.

My take

I beg to differ from both of the above viewpoints.

Firstly, I  do not agree that FIFA has been overly lenient in its decision. Having made this statement, I feel the need to clarify that biting another human is unacceptable. While a lengthy ban would certainly appease Suarez’s detractors, it really does not solve the issue at hand.

Suarez is, as you all know, a third-time offender as regards his habit of biting opposition players. His first bite was in 2010, when he bit Ottman Bakkal of PSV Eindhoven, whilst playing for Ajax. He was awarded a 7 game ban for this incident.

His second bite was towards the end of the 2012/13 season in a league game for Liverpool against Chelsea, when he sunk his teeth into Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. He was (again) found guilty and a harsher punishment was awarded by the English FA – a 10 game ban across all competitions.

He was also found guilty of an alleged racial attack on Patrice Evra in 2011, for which he was duly punished.

It is apparent that these bans have proved to be fairly redundant. By definition, a punishment is expected to deter the offender from committing similar mistakes in the future. Neither of his two previous bans prevented him from biting Chiellini the other day – which is a relevant point, as one can easily infer that his on-field antics are not premeditated. It entirely boils down to his frustrations surfacing during a difficult match and/or a possible provocation by the victim (in this case, Chiellini).

Imposing heavy sanctions wouldn’t serve the purpose considering the root of the problem lies either in Suarez’s mind or his cultural upbringing – something that makes him forget his morals the minute he steps onto the pitch.

While the punishment is clearly not a deterrent, it also fails to rehabilitate him. A heavier sanction is neither going to help him nor assist in the eradication of the problem. Yes, it prevents him from committing any offence during the course of the ban – but what after?

Secondly, I fail to understand the argument from Liverpool fans that the ban should have been restricted only to his capacity as a Uruguay player. The general misconception among them is that the club is being unfairly punished when it had nothing to do with the incident at the outset.

The four month ban is with regard to “any football activity” and not “LFC related activity”. It is a general ban imposed on the player from taking part in any official football activity, in view of the fact that he has bitten another human being, not for the first time or the second time.

That it disables Suarez from taking part in any Liverpool related activity is purely incidental. Consider this – If the season was scheduled to start in December (instead of August), a four-month ban from all football activities effective 1st July would barely have impacted Liverpool’s campaign.

It’s important to understand FIFA’s rationale in this case. If its Disciplinary Committee wanted to directly involve Liverpool as party (it can’t), it would have measured the ban in terms of a certain number of games – and not a fixed period of time (as in the present case).

Notwithstanding anything mentioned above, Liverpool could challenge the legality of the Disciplinary Committee’s decision to impose a four-month ban on all football related activities as it would affect them both financially as well as in football terms.

Such a challenge would have to be isolated from the proceedings that are already going on between FIFA and Uruguay.

The word of the Law

Explaining the ban

There has been a lot of debate raging on Twitter regarding ‘the four month ban from all football related activities’ and whether FIFA has the authority to impose said ban. However, Article 22 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FDC) explicitly confers upon FIFA such a power. It is important to note that this has been the first time that a player has been punished in this fashion retrospectively.

It appears that the ban is already in effect and therefore, Suarez will not feature in the ‘Round of 16’ fixture against Colombia on the 28 June. It also means that he will not be allowed to train with his teammates or even enter the stadium to watch his side play. The same applies throughout the period of four months.

Thus, as far as Liverpool is concerned, Suarez cannot travel with the squad for its pre-season tour. He is also not allowed to train with his teammates (he may train alone), enter any football stadium, and so on. There is no doubt that he will seriously lack in match fitness come November, when his ban is scheduled to end.

Appeals

According to Daniel Geey in his article, an appeal may lie before FIFA’s Appeal Committee if the length of the ban is greater than 2 games or 2 months as stated under Article 118 (c) of the Disciplinary Code.

Also, Article 124 (2) of the stated Code provides that the ban shall remain in force during the appeal hearings. Thus, Suarez will continue to miss games until the final verdict is declared by the Appeal Committee.

There is a provision for a second appellate authority – the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – before which an appeal may lie should the proceedings before FIFA’s Appeal Committee fail.

In the event of a second appeal, the CAS has the authority to suspend the ban until the appeal is heard fully. However, no case shall lie before the CAS unless the FIFA Appeal Committee has passed its verdict on the matter.

Does Liverpool have any remedy?

Article 119 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code explains the persons entitled to appeal. The essence of the Article is that only those who were parties to the initial proceedings (Suarez/Uruguay) and those having a “legally protected interest” in the matter may lodge an appeal.

Thus, Liverpool cannot appeal the decision directly as they were not a party to the initial hearing despite having a “legally protected interest” (they own Suarez’s contract). However, they may take FIFA to court challenging the legality of its ruling by initiating separate legal proceedings.

Article 119 also provides that the National Football Associations have the power to appeal against any decision sanctioning their players. Thus, it appears that the English FA is authorized to appeal against the Disciplinary Committee’s decision on Liverpool’s behalf. However, it seems rather unlikely that it will exercise its authority as it was the exact same body that punished Suarez for his previous misdemeanors.

How would this affect Suarez’s career?

According to Liverpool Echo, club owner J.W Henry is adamant on retaining Liverpool’s best and most valuable player despite his latest act of shame.

Interestingly, Suarez’s four month ban from “all football related activities” does not prevent Liverpool from selling him. However, if clubs like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are interested in Suarez in spite of this incident, it is highly likely that they will refuse to pay the price quoted by Liverpool (rumored to be around £80m) as he’d miss a substantial part of next season anyway.

It is understood that Liverpool will not accept a knockdown bid for their best player although his antics have yet again embarrassed the widely respected Merseyside club.

Arjun Krishnan

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