With his apology - “if it offends anyone” - for using a term judged to be racist, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez will be hoping a line has been drawn under one of the most controversial cases in English football history. And he won’t be the only one.
This has been a very unsavoury affair for all involved in it, and no one has emerged with much credit or without criticism. Much of that criticism has been levelled at Liverpool Football Club in the days since an FA-established independent regulatory commission published a 115-page report on its verdict in the case, based on the disputed events of Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Manchester United back in October.
This report detailed how it had come to the conclusion that Suarez had used the word 'negro' or 'negros' seven times during a row with the Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. The basis for this conclusion was the "unreliability" of Suarez’s evidence as opposed to Evra’s.
In the highly partisan game of football, where decisions on and off the pitch, be they right or wrong, are queried by both sides and their supporters, that was a conclusion that was never going to be universally accepted. And so it proved.
Liverpool’s response was bullish and defensive, as
it has been from the very beginning of this issue.
They backed their player, even as the commission
handed down an eight-match ban and £40,000 fine
having found Suarez guilty of racial abuse, despite
conceding the player is not a racist.
But it has been this 115-page FA document that has
caused the most controversy. The club and many of
its fans see it as highly flawed, utterly subjective, and
containing little or no appreciation for the discrepancies
in evidence given by Evra.
Relevant as that may be, Suarez admitted to using the
word ‘negro’, although he contends he said it once, and
not as often as Evra claimed. In any event, it is a term
which is so obviously offensive in this country even if it
isn’t in his own, and the fact that neither he (until lately)
nor the club saw reason to apologise is questionable,
to say the least.
So has Liverpool's handling of its submission of
evidence. This added confusion to an already complex
case, as well as discrediting Liverpool’s and Suarez’s
Debatable too has been the approach of the FA and
the three-man panel it appointed to deal with this matter.
A number of questions arise for them. How can an independent panel be independent of the association if it is appointed by it? Why were there differences in the way in which Evra submitted his evidence to the way Suarez submitted his? Why was there a plethora of leaks and spin to the media in the course of the lengthy investigation? And why wait until New Year’s Eve, of all days, to release its final report?
Evra, as the victim in this case, emerges with little credit as well. The report details the French defender’s insulting reference to Suarez’s sister, threat to punch Suarez, and his bizarre questioning of a matter as routine as a coin toss during the match. There are also a number of notable discrepancies in his initial reporting of the abuse he was subjected to by Suarez.
Amid all this, football in general has taken an almighty knock, as it has also from the ongoing John Terry/Anton Ferdinand alleged racism case.
While the FA can, in some ways, be praised for coming down hard on racial abuse as it has been judged to be, football fans remain utterly divided on an issue that we should all be united against.
One only has to look at the disgusting and vile racial abuse aimed at Evra by Twitter users, which former Reds striker Stan Collymore revealed last month, to see that the factionalism football creates can often go too far and really has done in this case.
Looking forward, the FA faces questions over how it deals with issues as sensitive as racism. It has earned praise but it has also been mooted that a truly independent arbitrary body be established to deal with disciplinary matters such as this, not just in football but in all sport. This is not an idea that should be dismissed.
Liverpool FC will be damaged by this for some time to come, as too will Suarez and manager Kenny Dalglish for his comments on the matter. All remain steadfast in their belief that the club and the player have been wronged, when many others in society maintain this is not the case.
Only history can judge whether Liverpool’s cause has been a righteous one.
Right now, that looks highly unlikely.
By Hugh O'Connell, Senior Editor
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Kenny Dalglish has been criticised for backing Luis Suarez; Manchester United's Patrice Evra
© Trinity Mirror
© Trinity Mirror