The verdict in the Suarez case hung on the reliability of the witness testimony. In blunt summary, the FA decided that Evra was a more reliable witness and therefore found Suarez guilty. Here are the crucial parts of the testimony with some analysis…
Is the Word “Negro” Racially Offensive?
The panel of language experts used by the FA described the connotations of the word “negro” as follows:
“It is important to grasp that the word “negro” is ambiguous in all countries and regions of Latin America. The word “negro” is by no means, however, always used offensively. The term can also be used as a friendly form of address to someone seen as somewhat brown-skinned or even just black-haired. It may be used affectionately between man and wife, or girlfriend/boyfriend, it may be used as a nickname in everyday speech, it may be used to identify in neutral and descriptive fashion someone of dark skin; several famous people in Uruguay are known as “el negro/la negra such-and-such”.
The experts concluded that if the panel believed Evra’s version of events, they could assume the word “negro” was used in a racially offensive way. However, they say of Suarez’s version of events:
“The experts concluded their observations on Mr Suarez’s account as follows. If Mr Suarez used the word “negro” as described by Mr Suarez, this would not be interpreted as either offensive or offensive in racial terms in Uruguay and Spanish-speaking America.”
The panel therefore needed to deem one of the accounts to be false in order to establish guilt, since Suarez’s defence was proved to be inoffensive in racial terms.
How Events Transpired
The conversation began with Evra saying “Concha de tu hermana” which translates as “your sister’s pussy”. Evra says he meant “fucking hell”. There is no dispute about who started the argument: it was Evra. There is no dispute about who threw the first insult: Evra. The dispute is whether Suarez’s reaction used racially offensive words. The FA ruled that it did.
So, how unreliable a witness was Suarez, and how reliable was Evra?
Immediately after Evra’s insult, the video evidence that can be lip-read shows Suarez saying “What did you say?” Suarez told the FA his words were “What did you say?” That is a reliable statement.
They both agree that Evra then said “Why did you kick me?” What they dispute is the answer. Evra claims Suarez said “Because you are black”. Suarez claims he said “it was just a normal foul” then shrugged his shoulders. The video evidence shows Suarez shrugging his shoulders, backing up his testimony. So far, the video evidence supports Suarez.
Next comes the crucial piece of Suarez evidence, the part the FA panel relied heavily on to find him guilty. Suarez said in his statement “I was trying to defuse the situation”. Under cross examination, Suarez more or less admitted that he was not trying to defuse the situation. The FA used this admission to discredit Suarez as a witness.
The really important thing he says comes just after this comment: “Under no circumstances was this action intended to be offensive and most certainly not racially offensive. It was not in any way a reference to the colour of PE’s skin.” This, the FA deemed, was also untrue.
The other evidence the FA panel relied on was the fact that Suarez’s story changes slightly. However, all of the changes can be fully explained by the fact that the situation happened very quickly and the fallibility of memory means that the exact sequences of events often merge into one. The FA acknowledge this as a possibility but do not accept it as an excuse.
There are inconsistencies in Evra’s testimony. In his evidence, Evra states that he told the players after the game that Suarez said he kicked him “porque tu eres negro” (“because I am black”). None of the four Spanish speaking Manchester United players recalled Evra saying this in their witness testimonies. In the FA’s report, they confirm this is the case but state that it is possible the players simply forgot he said it. They do not point to the other possibility: that he did not say it. Under this scenario, it could be used as evidence that Evra is an unreliable witness.
There were four pieces of evidence presented by Suarez’s lawyer to the FA that suggest Evra is an unreliable witness. The interesting one is the coin toss. Here is the transcript of that incident:
“Mr Marriner explained that he used a FIFA coin which is blue on one side and yellow on the other. He asked Mr Evra, as the visiting captain, to call the colour. Mr Marriner tossed the coin, it came down yellow, and he awarded it to Steven Gerrard who elected to stay in their current ends. Manchester United had kick off. Mr Evra remonstrated that he had called correctly but, Mr Marriner said, he had not. Mr Evra then spoke to Ryan Giggs about it, and Mr Marriner walked over to Mr Evra to assure him that he (Mr Marriner) had got it right. Mr Evra’s evidence was that when such a coin was used, he always called yellow given that the alternative, blue, is a Manchester City colour, which he would never call. The toss came down yellow and so Mr Evra knew that he had won it. He particularly wanted to change ends at the start, he explained to the referee that he had called yellow, and why he had done so. Mr Evra was angry but the referee did not change his mind.”
Evra either could not remember what colour he chose or lied about it afterwards. This at best questions his reliability as a witness and at worst suggests he is willing to lie to gain an advantage. Crucially, he reacted outwardly far more to the coin toss than he did in the goalmouth when he claimed that Suarez used the word “negro” five times. Had that really been the case, surely Evra’s reaction would have been much stronger?
Another inconsistency is Evra’s use of the term “ten times” to describe how many times Suarez allegedly said “negro”. Evra has retracted this claim and said it was a “figure of speech”. Really?
What about previous form? Suarez has no history of any form of racism and is an ambassador for racial equality. Evra, on the other hand, has been at the centre of a racism scandal in the recent past. It was alleged that ground staff at Chelsea racially abused Evra in 2008. The allegation was thrown out and here is how the panel described Evra’s testimony:“We find Mr Evra’s description exaggerated… There was no good reason for Mr Evra to have run over and barged Mr Griffin as he did. It was unnecessarily and gratuitously aggressive of Mr Evra… Mr Evra’s suggestion that he was concerned about Mr Strudwick’s safety is farfetched. They were two grown men having an apparently strong verbal disagreement but no more than that. The clear implication by Mr Evra that Mr Griffin’s pitchfork gave some reason for concern about Mr Strudwick’s safety is ridiculous…We find Mr Evra’s account exaggerated and unreliable. It is an attempt to justify a physical intervention by him which cannot reasonably be justified…”
Compare this to the conclusions drawn by the panel in the Suarez case:
“We considered it improbable that Mr Evra would act in such a dishonest way in order to damage the reputation of a fellow professional whose footballing skills he admires, with whom he had had no previous run-ins, and who he does not think is a racist.”
There is therefore evidence to suggest that both Suarez and Evra made statements that were not 100% true during this case, and that Evra has a history of doing this. By using Evra’s account as “the truth”, the FA have concluded that Suarez’s entire evidence can be completely discredited whilst the inconsistencies in Evra’s testimony, and past, can be ignored.