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That Which We Call A Rose….

/ 04:03 PM December 23, 2011

Turkey is traditionally served at Christmas in certain parts of the world – don’t ask me why. It has something to do, apparently, with geese becoming too expensive and chicken being a delicacy in yesteryear. In any event, it is eaten across the UK on Christmas Day and everyone seems to enjoy it.

Although turkey is the bird of choice during the festive period, it appears as though the Football Association in England has decided to serve up ‘goat’ instead.

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Scape goat.

English football’s governing body has gift wrapped, and presented an 8 match ban to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, for racially abusing Patrice Evra, and while the club has two weeks to appeal, it’s clear that the ‘guilty’ verdict represents something of a landmark.

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In handing down the punishment, the FA is obviously trying to set an example, and manifest its ‘zero tolerance’ approach to racism in football. I do wonder though, the extent to which Suarez’ past, and his reputation, were taken into consideration when passing sentence.

As any salt-of-the-earth, honest-to-goodness British policeman might say, Suarez has ‘previous’. That is to say that his career disciplinary record is less than exemplary, and there may not be many people (other than Liverpool fans) who will cancel Christmas or shed a tear over his punishment or the extent of it.

Detractors will point to the incident in November 2010, when Suarez was playing for Ajax and bit opponent Otman Bakkal on the shoulder during a game.

Others will point to Suarez’ propensity to go down under a challenge, claiming that he tries to win free-kicks and penalties unfairly, and has a tendency to try to get his opponents into trouble.

There is no doubt that he is a supremely gifted footballer, and Liverpool’s hopes of competing for a place in the top four this season (unlikely as it appears at this juncture), or even the title, rest on his slight but talented shoulders.

But, and herein lies the rub I feel, his orientation into English football has not been the best.

Suarez’ defence has been that he didn’t say anything to Patrice Evra that he hasn’t heard countless times on a football field in Uruguay.

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I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that all the fuss has been about use of the word “negrito”. It’s a diminutive of the word “negro” in Spanish (please read it in a Spanish accent – it sounds so much less offensive…), and means “little black man.” In Uruguay, at least, it has affectionate rather than vituperative connotations. Some linguists have suggested even, that it has nothing at all to do with skin colour, but is a colloquial term for “friend, pal, or mate”.

“In Uruguay it is a nickname for someone whose skin is darker than the rest,” said Gus Poyet, a fellow Uruguayan and currently the manager of Brighton and Hove Albion, offering his interpretation. “It is not offensive. Such people are part of our society. We will defend them, go to war with them, share everything with them, and at the same time use that word.”

Unfortunately, Patrice Evra and England’s football authorities don’t see it (or hear it) that way, and Suarez is paying the price.

Liverpool Football Club will also pay the price, if indeed they are deprived of a key player’s services for what amounts to more than a fifth of a league season.

And, in preparation of being pilloried by Liverpool fans everywhere, I would suggest that the club only has itself to blame.

Even before his first game for Liverpool in the Barclays Premier League, Suarez should have been briefed on the acceptable code of conduct in English football, focusing on the possible cultural differences that the player, at 24 years of age, may not have been aware of.

If company employees go to work in a different country, you can bet your bottom Human-Resources-allocated dollar, that they will go through some sort of orientation programme, to ensure that they have an understanding of the local culture and don’t make an enormous social gaffe on their first visit to the water cooler.

Why should it be any different in the world of football – a rough and tumble sport that involves human interaction at an almost primal level of physical competition?

Is Suarez a racist? There is no evidence to suggest that he is, and the fact that he has a black grandfather and is therefore something of an ethnic mélange himself would suggest against it.

Did Suarez make racist remarks? Possibly, although it’s more likely that certain words, and one word in particular, got lost in translation.

Does racism exist in football? Of course it does, as it does in almost every walk of life, whether we choose to accept the fact or not.

The English FA may well feel, righteously even, that they are doing the right thing by setting an example, but one can’t help feeling that they may have fastened on to this issue with rather greater gusto than is entirely appropriate.

Luis Suarez should have known better, and if he didn’t, then someone should have been around to instruct him and help him out.

“I don’t think Luis Suarez is a racist.”

These are not my words, but those of Patrice Evra in his written statement to the FA.

Herman Ouseley, Chairman of the anti-racism group ‘Kick It Out’ put the affair nicely into context when he said; “This charge is not saying Luis Suarez is a racist. It’s saying, on this occasion, he used racist language. It doesn’t make him a bad guy – he needs to learn what is acceptable.”

Nothing more needs to be said, although it will be interesting to hear what John Terry has to say in the coming weeks.

Catch Andrew Leci on Monday Night Verdict every Monday at 8pm on ESPN and send in your feedback to theverdict@espnstar.com

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TAGS: Football, Liverpool FC, Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra, Sports
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