LONDON: The Football Association issued a powerful statement to English football – and, coincidentally, to FIFA president Sepp Blatter – when it banned Liverpool’s Luis Suarez for eight matches for racist abuse writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

The Uruguayan striker was also fined £40,000 by an independent commission for his words to Manchester United’s Patrice Evra in a 1-1 draw at Anfield on October 15. The ban will not start until the outcome of any appeal which is virtually certain.

Suarez had strongly denied the accusation and was fully supported by Liverpool over the incident which was revealed when Evra told French TV on the evening of the game that he had been racially abused by the Uruguayan on 10 occasions.

After the incident had been reported, FIFA president Blatter said he thought that two players could settle an incident in the heat of the game by shaking hands at the final whistle. His comment sparked a storm of anger in Britain, not replicated everywhere else, and he was forced to issue what he conceded was a personally embarrassing apology.

English football has worked hard over the last 20 years to banish racial discrimination in the crowds and on the pitch.

A campaign entitled ‘Kick It Out’ has been highly effective. This is the reason for significant discussion over the Suarez incident, the Blatter faux pas and the separate incident in which England captain John Terry has been accused of a racist comment to QPR’s Anton Ferdinand.

The Suarez case revolved partly around interpretations of the use of the word ‘negro’ or ‘negrito’ which, the player has claimed, is commonly used in South America as a term which is merely ‘descriptive’ rather than pejorative or insulting.

FA rules and regulations state that comments referring to another player or official on grounds of race or colour constitute serious misbehaviour. One issue to arise is whether Liverpool made enough effort to ‘educate’ Suarez in English culture – though he should have been aware of the issue after having spent four years in Holland with Ajax.

Other punishments

The punishment is one of the most severe imposed by the FA in the 20 years of the Premier League and the toughest for racist abuse.

Heavier punishments included nine months on Eric Cantona (for attacking a fan in 1995), nine months on Mark Bosnich (for a failed drugs test in 2003), eight months on Rio Ferdinand (for missing a drugs test in 2003), 11 matches on Paolo di Canio (for pushing a referee in 1998) and 10 matches on David Prutton (for pushing referee in 2005).

Liverpool were furious with both the verdict and the punishment. A club statement described the ban as “extraordinary” considering that it was based on the words of Evra alone. The Anfield club said: “It is our strong belief, having gone over the facts of the case, that Luis Suárez did not commit any racist act. It is also our opinion that the accusation by this particular player [i.e. Evra] was not credible – certainly no more credible than his prior unfounded accusations.”

That was a reference to Evra’s disciplinary case in 2008 when he was banned for four matches and fined £15,000 after an altercation with a Chelsea groundsman. The FA hearing at the time ruled his evidence was “exaggerated and unreliable” and Liverpool made a great point of focusing on this during the Suarez case.

Liverpool added: “Luis himself is of a mixed-race family background as his grandfather was black. He has been personally involved since the 2010 World Cup in a charitable project which uses sport to encourage solidarity amongs people of different backgrounds with the central theme that the colour of a person’s skin does not matter; they can all play together as a team.

“Nothing we have heard in the course of the hearing has changed our view that Luis Suárez is innocent of the charges brought against him and we will provide Luis with whatever support he now needs to clear his name.

“We would also like to know when the FA intend to charge Patrice Evra with making abusive remarks to an opponent after he admitted himself in his evidence to insulting Luis Suárez in Spanish in the most objectionable of terms.”

Suarez joined Liverpool from Ajax for £23m last January. At the time he was serving out a seven-game suspension for biting the shoulder of an opponent in a game against PSV Eindhoven. He said, via his Twitter account: “Today is a very difficult and painful day for both me and my family. Thanks for all the support, I’ll keep working!”