By Arun Nair – (@Nair_39)
Yesterday, The FA released their Independent Regulatory Commission’s written reasoning for the 10-match ban given to Luis Suarez for his infamous bite on Branislav Ivanovic in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Anfield last Sunday .
The 21-page document brings to light some of the inconsistencies and the hypocrisy of English football’s governing body and how they work.
Many Reds fans feel the player and the club have the right to feel aggrieved having read the regulatory panel’s reasoning, which, among other flaws, has little explanation of why the additional match suspension was seven games.
Here, in Part One, I will analyse the main points of the IRC’s reasoning.
1) Bite Dissimilar To Most Other Incidents
The 21-page report states that one of the many of the high-profile incidents mentioned in recent days, Ben Thatcher’s act of serious foul play in 2006, was not taken into consideration.
It also suggests that challenges such as Wigan’s Callum McManaman’s on Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara cannot be compared as the act of competing for a ball is part of the game.
This is a valid point – incidents like the above are unavoidable in football – after all, it is a contact sport.
On the other hand, should the IRC have considered the severity of Suarez’ bite in comparison to other incidents like Thatcher’s(which left victim Pedro Mendes unconscious)? It’s not unreasonable to suggest that if you asked the likes of Mendes and Haidara whether they would have preferred to be bitten than suffer as they did through challenges that are ‘part of the game’, they would have replied “Yes.”
2) “Truly Exceptional”
Whether the incident is truly exceptional is the basis for any additional punishment in conjunction with the standard three-match suspension, as stated in Factor a):
“For clarification, the standard punishment of three-match suspension for a proven standard violent conduct offence in England is a matter for The FA, and it was set as an entry point for the standard violent conduct offence, after consultations with the stakeholders.
“We wished to emphasise that it is a standard punishment and that, under the Regulations, both the Club and The FA has the right to apply for a decrease or an increase in sanction as appropriate if the circumstances are considered to be “truly exceptional”.
Factor b) The nature of the incident and the Player’s state of mind, in particular any intent, recklessness or negligence:
The IRC judged that “Mr Suarez deliberately and purposefully bit into Mr Ivanovic’s arm in an unprovoked attack and it was an off the ball incident.” However, they rightly rejected the FA’s claim that “Mr Suarez was trying to provoke a reaction from Mr Ivanovic, which would lead to Mr Ivanovic being dismissed from the field of play.”
The panel concluded “We found that biting an opponent in itself was extremely shocking, unexpected and truly exceptional. Whilst there are numerous violent conduct cases arising out of physical bodily contact between players, the incidents of biting an opponent are very rare.”
“We also found that the deliberate, purposeful, unprovoked, off the ball attack of this nature truly exceptional.”
This factor cannot be argued against.
Factors c and d) Where applicable, the level of force used, and any injury to an opponent caused by the incident:
The IRC upheld Suarez’ claim that “there was no evidence of injury and it was not accepted as submitted by The FA that Mr Ivanovic cried out in pain.”
However, they accepted the remaining points from both sides(see paragraphs 43 and 44 of the official report – link at bottom of this post) and “believed that Mr Ivanovic was shocked, surprised and suffered some pain as a result.”
They also stated that they “did not receive any evidence to support injuries to Mr Ivanovic and we did not see Mr Ivanovic needing a treatment, and he carried on with the game.”
Thus, the IRC rightly concluded that based on the evidence available “any possible level of force used in this incident” or “any possible injuries that we could deduce in this incident” would not “contribute towards the circumstances of this incident being truly exceptional.”
However, this again raises the question that was raised in 1) as to whether the incident should have been summarily considered “truly exceptional.” Ivanovic received little damage, and the bite was more petulant that outright violent.
Factor e) Any other impact on the game in which the incident occurred
The IRC agreed with Suarez in that the outcome of the game, in which he scored an equaliser in the 96th minute, “could not be classed as a contributor towards the circumstances of this incident being truly exceptional.”
Despite this, the panel “sympathised with The FA’s submission that Mr Suarez not being dismissed after the incident had an impact on the game.”
Factor f) The prevalence of the type of incident in question in football generally
The written reasoning of the IRC states that “Mr Suarez submitted that this particular factor does not entitle the Commission to deviate from the standard punishment. It was contended that this factor would only be of assistance in those cases where there is a particular and recurring pattern of misconduct in football, which requires particular attention.”
“Mr Suarez further submitted that this was not a case where a sanction in addition to the standard punishment is required to act as deterrence to other players as the nature of the incident is extremely rare. In short, players throughout the game know that biting an opponent is not acceptable behaviour and do not need to see Mr Suarez receive a ban in excess of the standard punishment to be discouraged from acting in such a manner.”
Suarez’ claim is very true – the fact that biting incidents are rare provides evidence of this.
However, the panel rejected this reasonable claim, on the basis that “We have the responsibility for the whole game of football in England, down to the youth football at grassroots level. We believe it is our duty to discourage any players at any level from acting in such a deplorable manner or attempting to copy what they had seen on the television.”
The FA submitted that “Mr Suarez’s action took place in the 65th minute of the match between Liverpool and Chelsea, two of the most distinguished and heralded clubs in England. The match was televised live to millions of viewers both domestic and overseas.”
Amazingly, the FA also cited the fact that “Within a few hours of the match, reference to the incident was both headline news around the country and the top trend on Twitter worldwide.”
The FA continued:
“Mr Suarez is an international and one of the best known and lauded players in the country. He plays for Liverpool, one of the most successful clubs in English football history. A player at this level of the game has a duty to uphold the highest standards of conduct and to set an example to minors. Mr Suarez’s conduct on this occasion fell far below the standards expected of him.
“There are simply no circumstances in which it is acceptable for a player to bite an opponent. Mr Ivanovic cannot have reasonably expected to have been subject to such an action. There can be no justification whatsoever for such a shocking and reprehensible act.
“Such an incident has a deleterious effect on the image of the game of football in this country. It serves to undermine the integrity and reputation of the sport. Furthermore Mr Suarez’s conduct has damaged the image of English football across the globe.”
Suarez responded that, “whilst not seeking to diminish his own actions, it is his reputation that has been damaged. The incident was not the type, which calls into question the wider reputation of football as most reasonable observers would have concluded that the fault for the incident lies solely with Mr Suarez and not the football authorities or governing bodies.”
The IRC stated that “this incident had been seen by millions of viewers both domestic and overseas, as well as generating a great deal of interest and debate amongst countless number of people. We agreed that the images of the incident are truly shocking and, whilst we accepted that Mr Suarez’s reputation had been impacted, these unsavoury images would have given a bad image of English football domestically and across the world alike.”
They added that “We also agreed that all players in the higher level of the game are seen as role models, have the duty to act professionally and responsibly, and set the highest example of good conduct to the rest of the game – especially to young players. In this regard and on this occasion, Mr Suarez’s conduct had fallen far below the standards expected of him.”
“We further agreed that the participants in a game of football do not expect to be bitten by another participant when they come to play football. In this incident, Mr Ivanovic would not, and should not, have been expected to be subject to such a shocking and reprehensible action.”
Therefore, the panel judged that there were “many arguments in this factor to be supporting the circumstances of this incident to be truly exceptional.”
Suarez deserves disapproval, not damnation. Furthermore, children do not bite others because of Suarez but because they are naughty. The fabric of society will not unravel due to the act of a solitary footballer, nor did it with the misdemeanours of Eric Cantona, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Ryan Giggs, among others.
In addition, having reread this section of the report several times, I, like many other Liverpool fans, find it amazing that the fact that the offender is famous, the match was televised around the world, and that the incident was trending on Twitter were all taken into significant consideration. Surely the incident itself should be considered, rather than who perpetrated it, or who saw it? The panel also suggest that if the offender had been, for example, a League 2 player, the punishment would have been less severe. Is this fair? I believe not.
I would also like to note that Callum McManaman was also a trending topic on Twitter, as was John Terry and most other behavioural instances in football in recent years.
Factor g) The wider interests of football in applying consistent punishments for dismissal offences
The IRC referenced the only biting incident referenced by Suarez, stating that “Jermaine Defoe’s alleged biting incident against a West Ham player in 2006, we noted the submission that the Referee did see the incident and issued the player with a caution, and The FA took no further action. We were unable to comment about The FA’s position at that time to possibly pursue additional sanctions, but we do know that the Regulatory Commissions could only deal with the matters placed before them.”
Perhaps the true reason as to why Defoe did not receive a significant punishment for his similar bite was because he didn’t trend on Twitter?
Joking aside, the panel concluded, with minimal reasoning, that they “found arguments under this factor that would contribute to the circumstances of this incident to be truly exceptional.”
3) The Conclusion
The IRC concluded their reasoning by stating:
“In considering the factors a – g above and submissions by both parties, we were sure when taking all into consideration that the circumstances of the incident of the bite are truly exceptional.”
“We, therefore, upheld the claim made by The FA that this standard punishment would be clearly insufficient.”
Overall, the IRC’s consideration of the seven factors is reasonably fair, and must be praised for considering the incident in isolation, as there were heavy suggestions that Suarez’ previous bite incident should be taken into account.
However, in my own conclusion, it must be acknowledged that there are several clear gaps where the panel have declined, or have been unable to explain fully their judgement of the factor contributing the incident being “truly exceptional.” If the IRC are unable to explain why the factor contributes to the incident being “truly exceptional”, then surely that factor should not contribute? In addition to this, some of the explained reasonings are baffling at best.
Thanks for reading, and please look out for Part 2: Analysing The Sanction And The Reasons Behind It, and Part 3: The Non-Appeal And Suarez’ Future. Coming soon.
Link to the full IRC document: http://www.thefa.com/News/governance/2013/apr/~/media/164A568A93784FE391CC1FDAB4D7313F.ashx