Luis Suarez: The verdict
This is not a piece about whether the decision to ban Luis Suárez for eight games is correct or not. In the absence of the FA’s full reasons, I don’t know that, and nor do you. The only thing we can say with certainty is that a three-man independent panel, convened by the FA, considered the submissions from both parties, along with any other evidence they may or may not have had, and determined that Suárez racially abused Patrice Evra. They then decided that this warranted an eight-game ban and a £40,000 fine, an aspect of the thing I’m going to leave alone because it’s boring.
Some important points. First, this was not a criminal trial, which has at least two significant implications. The first of these is that it was not carried out in public, as most criminal trials are, which has led to an understandable amount of frustration from fans of both sides (and I daresay journalists). This hasn’t been helped by Liverpool’s flagrant and repeated disregard of the request from the FA to not comment throughout the process; more cynical minds than I have concluded that this none-too-subtle attempt at spin might be taken as indicative of their own belief in the strength of their case.
The other implication concerns the standard of proof. A criminal conviction needs to be established “beyond reasonable doubt”, a deliberately strict test designed to ensure (not that it always does) that it is impossible, or at least powerfully unlikely, for an innocent person to be convicted. Better ten guilty men walk free than one innocent man go down, and all that. But civil proceedings, along with most tribunals and internal disciplinary processes, work on the balance of probabilities, or something similar. If the FA are using this test — and they helpfully haven’t said, though presumably the published reasons will address this — then the question becomes “is Luis Suárez more likely than not to have racially abused Patrice Evra?”, which obviously requires less evidence to satisfy.
(This would not weaken the finding, incidentally. Findings on the balance of probabilities, if supported by evidence, are generally regarded as safe. The point is that a criminal conviction requires an exaggerated level of proof, not that a civil finding requires an inadequate level of proof. If — as a test — it’s good enough to see employees up and down the country sacked, then it’s good enough for this.)
So, then. On to the evidence. Or not, since we don’t have it. One of the more interesting sidenotes to the whole shemozzle is that it has provided yet further evidence of the increasing entitlement felt by football fans when it comes to disciplinary proceedings. There seems to be an expectation that everything should be given to the media as quickly as possible, so that we can all then get down to the slanging match about what it means. While Liverpool were good enough to provide details of their defence to Henry Winter, and to address the media regularly throughout the investigation, the absence of anything from Manchester United has led plenty to assume that, since they haven’t been given the evidence, it doesn’t exist. And believing that a thing doesn’t exist because you can’t see it is something most of us grew out of around the same time we were learning to talk. Nature abhors a vacuum, so fills it with bullshit.
Which leads us neatly — this thing structures itself, doesn’t it? — onto the oh-so-vexed complaint that you can’t possibly reach a conclusion when it’s one man’s word against another. I happen to have some experience working for a body that frequently has to make decisions on the basis of such evidence, and if that body were to make a decision along the lines of “gosh, you say this, and you say that, and I just don’t know what to believe! Let’s leave it” then it would very likely be overturned in court.
When two people provide an account of something, and that account conflicts, then it is incumbent upon whoever’s job it is to judge them to consider the credibility, likelihood, consistency, and other aspects of each statement against each other. If you ask two people who won the 4.15 at Newton Abbot, and one tells you ” a horse” while the other says ” a unicorn”, then your own knowledge of the entry criteria for the race can help you choose one man’s word over the others even if there’s no other relevant evidence to hand.
To reiterate. I haven’t seen the full reasoning, and nor have you. But the only people in the world not on one side or another that have seen the evidence felt, to whatever standard of proof they were using, that there was sufficient reason to find that Suárez racially abused Patrice Evra.
They did not, however, find that he was or is “a racist”. “Racist”, of course, is a hopelessly vague term that embraces from Top Gear presenters right through to the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan; people who laugh at the jokes of Jim Davidson to people who believe, deep down, that all black people should be rounded up and exterminated. It’s not a black and white term, and that is why the FA did not look into Suárez’s soul, weigh it, and find him wanting, and nor did they attempt to. They found that he “used insulting words towards Mr Evra,” and further that those words “included a reference to Mr Evra’s colour”.
And this is the really interesting thing about the statement issued by Liverpool as a response to the findings. Apart from the inaccuracies, contradictions, insults, and insinuations of institutional bias — on which more here and here – the most obviously comic passage is the two paragraphs that detail Suárez’s own genealogy, charity work, and conclude by actually pointing out that he has black friends. If they’d thrown in a reference to the work of Mr Sidney Poitier, we could have completed our “I Can’t Be A Racist” bingo cards.
Comic, yet also strange. Suárez was not being called to task for his character, bur for his actions. By seeking so assiduously to defend his character, therefore, LFC’s statement is neatly in line with the generally-presumed narrative, which is that he used a word that could be pejorative — “negro”, “negrito”, or some such — but didn’t mean it pejoratively. Which, when you look at the FA’s statement, isn’t quite the point: they have found that he used insulting language, and that it included a reference to his colour. Whether or not you think somebody that uses/used insulting language with reference to colour is a racist is up to you; the FA have determined that its use in this instance broke their disciplinary codes. The argument that if somebody isn’t racist in general, then what they say can’t be racial abuse, has been rejected.
The FA have obviously put Liverpool fans in a profoundly invidious position by releasing the decision but not the findings — whatever their reasons for doing do — and the club have exacerbated this by being so ludicrously bullish.
In effect, Liverpool’s fans are being told by their club to reject a decision they have not yet seen the reasoning behind, simply on the basis that the club disagrees with it. This has manifested itself in plenty of online lunacy — guys, let’s make a “NEGRITO” banner! — much of which is probably nothing more than the usual triumph of the loud over the sane. But Suárez will play against Wigan tonight and likely be lauded as a hero, hailed in song throughout, and then that same singing faithful will in one or two days time be presented with a considered and reasoned document that says: we looked at what your legend said. We took his reasoning and the reasoning of his lawyers into account. And we didn’t believe him.
This would obviously be a problem if modern fandom — this paragraph and the next apply to all major clubs — hadn’t so completely sacrificed its own integrity to the facile and stupid idea that the fan should and can only be, in the words of SF previously, “the propaganda wing of the club”. This is a total and complete inversion of the natural state of things. You owe them nothing; they owe you everything. Without you, they would not exist. If someone does something cuntish whilst wearing your badge — the badge that you love, revere, adore, and worship — then your voice should be the first and the loudest to condemn him. What he does, he does in your name. His shit stains your shirt.
Most Liverpool fans will defend Suárez, whatever the FA’s eventual findings, because he is theirs, innocent until proven not playing for Liverpool. The club knows this, and is cynically stoking the “us vs. them”, anti-FA, anti-United mentality. Most fans of other clubs would do the same, as would most other clubs. It no longers matters what a footballer does, only who he does it for. There is no such thing as right or wrong any more, only my tribe and their mortal enemies, tattered banners tilting at one another across tired fields, validated by a supine, baying, thoughtless throng who have been cauterised into caring about nothing but the victory, at the cost of their very independence and fundamental humanity.
Rise, seas. Fall, skies. We’re done.