Saturday, 7 January 2012

FA v Suárez

The independent Regulatory Commission which heard the FA's case against Luis Suárez published its report this week.  It's a long and thorough document: judging by media commentary on the case I may be one of the few people not actually on the Commission who's read it.  In short, it was agreed that Evra and Suárez had an unfriendly conversation in Spanish, which is Suárez's native language and one that it turns out Evra is capable of holding a conversation in.  Suárez admits to having called Evra "negro" (in Spanish) once, and has issued a sort-of apology for it.  Evra says that Suárez called him "negro" seven times.  The Commission had no other direct evidence on what was said, but chose to believe Evra, on the grounds that Suárez made the claim to the Commission that he was attempting to be "conciliatory and friendly", whereas television pictures suggested that there was nothing friendly about the conversation, thereby damaging the credibility of his evidence in general.

After due reflection, Liverpool FC has decided not to appeal, presumably feeling that it has done enough to demonstrate its loyalty to  Suárez, and not wishing to do anything further to discourage any current or potential future players who would prefer their employer to be unambiguously opposed to racist abuse.

Interestingly, the Commission became in part a linguistic enquiry: including hearing expert witnesses on South American usage.  We learned that:
- Evra at the time understood Spanish "negro" to be the equivalent of French "nègre", whereas he now understands that it translates as "noir".  The whole case might never have arisen without this misunderstanding.
- Evra's opening remark to Suárez, having earlier been fouled by him, was "Concha de tu hermana".  The Commission accepted that that is not as insulting as it sounds, and colloquially would not be taken as a direct reference to one's sister's anatomy, just as English swearwords should not usually be understood literally.  In any case, Suárez, who perhaps wasn't expecting to be addressed in Spanish, didn't grasp what Evra had said.
- Evra was interviewed by French television shortly after the match, and said (in French) "You can even see clearly on his lips what he told me at least ten times".  Evra claimed to the Commission that "ten times" in French is just a figure of speech meaning "many times".  The Commission accepted this, and so held that Evra's credibility as a witness was undamaged by it.  I think French viewers would have understood "at least ten times" to mean "at least ten times".  But there again, television interviews and evidence to a quasi-legal hearing are not the same thing.

Overall, I think that low-level and not unprovoked abuse like this could best be dealt with in private - players can sort out among themselves what's acceptable.  But that once it's come to official attention, it has to be firmly censured.

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