The pitiful ballad of Suarez- Evra was prefaced by prejudice from the outset. Not, ironically, in the (allegedly) racially charged cauldron of Anfield , back in October of last year but in that the Football Association were minded to, and perhaps were duty bound to, consider the wider impact of the outcome of such a high-profile case for their admirable and correct ‘kick racism out’ campaign.
It is obvious, that unless Luis Suarez’s accuser, Patrice Evra, could be shown unequivocally to have bare-faced lied, that there would be far worse repercussions for the sport and the FA if justice was miscarried against Evra rather than Suarez.
Had the FA exonerated the Liverpool man, by implication humiliated Evra and then found that final position challenged and criticised, the outcome would be a public relations debacle for Lancaster Gate and something of a hammer blow to the credibility of the anti-racism campaign. Headline writers and commentators would have wondered aloud if an old-school white English FA had again swept another example of football’s dysfunctionality under their very conservative carpet.
Simply put, the three ‘wise men’ at the FA’s hearing, could not afford to get it wrong where Evra was concerned, but doing Luis Suarez a disservice would be far less likely to provoke as much of a backlash from any quarter, bar Liverpool 4.
And so it has transpired. In a case where there is simply no evidence for the plaintiff, save for his own testimony, one would have thought it reasonable that the press and various experts at least contemplate, after the denouement, that this one could’ve ‘gone either way’.
No one man or woman is in a position to say with certainty what truly happened between Suarez and Evra. Let’s be reminded, for the umpteenth time – nobody saw or heard Luis Suarez racially abuse Patrice Evra. Though the FA found for Evra, on the balance of ‘probability‘, an alternative scenario is entirely possible and arguably at least as probable. Yet the world outside of Anfield’s besieged perimeter now sees this as a shut case, the Liverpool player clearly a guilty man and the club complicit fools, who should abandon any notion that the FA may have mishandled this situation and urge their charge to apologise.
Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised. There is a long tradition in this country of accepting adjudications at face value in favour of the establishment, given by serious looking white men in formal attire. Dissent often only ever comes from the shadows and criticisms in an immediate aftermath of a verdict are largely suppressed by our mainstream media.
For the purposes of unravelling the Suarez-Evra entanglement the FA have effectively assumed the role of prosecutor, judge and jury, all in one neat(ish) package. Their media-acclaimed 115-page opus is in reality a document written by an FA-appointed panel congratulating itself on a job well done. It is akin to the prosecution in a trial chronicling how its arguments were, in fact, the better ones. A prophesy truly self-fulfilled.
The FA brought this case before their very own quasi-judicial panel. In no sense would it ever have been in their interests to deem the prosecution fallacious and ill judged once they had set this train in motion. The whole process was clearly self serving and loaded regardless of what one makes of the rights and wrongs of the actual case. Indeed, unless one views the FA as a bastion of fairness and rectitude this can only be seen as an extremely flawed way of attaining justice.
Hot on the heels of clashes with FIFA in a variety of arenas, the Football Association would not have allowed themselves to be portrayed in any way as being ‘soft’ on racism. Better there be an unfair flogging of an innocent ‘non-racist’, than risk being seen to be being lightweight on the ‘kick it (racism) out’ platform.
On a world-wide stage there is a kind of morality in that reasoning, albeit in something of a crude ‘ends justify the means’ sort of way. Undoubtedly in ‘hanging’ Suarez the FA has sent out a clear message of intolerance towards racism. That in the long term may prove to the best outcome, when all have finally skulked back to their respective corners.
In one outpost of the globe, though, they have affected an entirely opposite outcome. For many red Liverpudlians (and the football club’s wider constituency of many races and creeds) what the FA have demonstrated is not that they actually take accusations of racism seriously, but that claiming to be ‘not a racist’ is a political stance, rather than the moral one it should be. They have shown that the issue of ‘stamping out racism’ is there to be used and manipulated to suit agendas rather than to further the actual cause.
Of course, despite it being clear that the FA would always be minded to find in favour of the plaintiff, Patrice Evra, for this political expediency, it is now possible to marvel at just how the Football Association set about achieving their ultimate grandstanding goal. Their 115 pages of ‘written reasons’ is something of a masterpiece of contrivance and contradictions. It would take, though, at least a further 115 pages to do analysis of the report complete justice. Let’s suffice here with a focus on two of the prime considerations that the FA’s panel afforded themselves in reaching their chosen verdict.
In a case where there simply were no witnesses to the actual alleged events, bar the protagonists themselves, the adjudicators were left with the need to demonstrate that one man’s word was worth more than another’s. Witness credibility, then, became the order of the day. In parallel with this assessment, they also chose to assess the probability of one perceived narrative versus an alternative.
Pages of discourse are expended on subtle denigration of Luis Suarez. He is viewed, entirely subjectively, as unreliable. They simply didn’t like the cut of his jib in his testimony given in Spanish and broken English, as opposed to Evra’s upright and composed evidence delivered in the FA panel’s native tongue. Small inconsistencies in Suarez’s statements are magnified and served up as evidence of a shifty deceitful character. Evra by contrast is forgiven several examples of hyperbole, exaggeration, outright lie and offensive behaviour – all written off as ‘figures of speech’, as consequences of duress or natural and forgivable human errors.
The following from the report, as commentary on Liverpool Football Club’s assertion that Evra had contrived the charges, is choice:
It (LFC’s lawyer’s conclusion) did not accord with our assessment of Mr Evra, as a clear, calm, and consistent witness. 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 who he had had no previous run-ins, and who he does not think is a racist.
This is the calm Mr Evra who disputes the outcome of the toss of coin with the referee at the game’s outset, the same man who on about 56 minutes reacts to the faintest of contacts with Luis Suarez by crumpling to the turf and writhing as if mortally wounded; the same honest chap who enhances Dirk Kuyt’s angry request for him to ‘stand up’ into a claim that he said ‘stand up you fucking prick’.
The sensitive and righteous Mr Evra, then minutes later, when awaiting the delivery of a corner into the penalty area he is defending, still ‘in shock’ (according to his credible testimony) at the contact with Suarez five minutes prior, decides to further an enquiry as to why he had been so allegedly wronged at that fateful moment of earlier contact, by referencing Suarez’s ‘sister’s pussy’.
The FA present an interesting paradox whereby on the one hand the said reference to Suarez’s sister’s vagina could actually just be interpreted as a figure speech as tame as exclaiming ‘fucking hell!’ This sentence “Concha de tu hermana, porque me diste in golpe” is translated by the panel as ‘fucking hell, why did you kick me ?’ Maybe They should have gone for ‘oh blimey !’ or ‘oh crikey!’ instead of the less charitable translation of words that literally translate as ‘your sister’s pussy/cunt’ .
The paradox is that on the one hand this exclamation by Evra is presented as a near harmless enquiry , and an example of how noble and honest (and crucially, credible) Evra is by actually fessin’ up to using naughty words, but on the other hand we are expected to view the force and anger of his question as providing the motive for the mixed race, ‘non racist’ (according to the report) Suarez to suddenly abandon all his egalitarian principles and launch into a tirade of racist invective that would put a passing Klansman to shame. This is the contradictory scenario that the FA’s panel expect all to agree was the most ‘probable’ turn of events.
Evra in his testimony re-houses goal posts at every turn, yet the report tries to demonstrate alleged inconsistencies in third party’s testimonies to demonstrate that Suarez was actually the serial story changer. Evra claims at different stages, that he was called ‘black’, ‘a fucking black’, ‘a nigger’, ‘a fucking prick’, and loses count of how many times he does so, with varying statements totting the racist epithet count up at five, seven or 10, depending on Evra’s mood.
Rather than noting that Evra’s eyebrow-raising and later retracted claim, that he was racistly abused ’10 times’ was actually a deliberate distortion and a significant mark against his credibility, the panel accept a spurious assertion that ‘dix fois’ (10 times) is just a figure of speech in French. Scurrilously the panel claim that LFC’s Damien Comolli backs that assertion, as native Frenchman, in his own testimony. Flipping back a few dozen pages to Comolli’s testimony it’s apparent that he said nothing of the sort. Comolli quite categorically states that while one might say to a child something akin to ‘I’ve told you ten times already’ as an exaggeration to make a point, in anything more adult the relevant degree of accuracy would be applied, and the Evra-Suarez affair, was just such an occasion.
As the report and its repetitive narrative unfold throughout the 115 pages, a clear picture is painted of Patrice Evra as a man losing control of himself throughout the course of a testing and high-octane sporting encounter. His increasing petulance is finally marked by the referee, who on about 68 minutes books Evra for a minor act of violence against Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt.
At this juncture Evra (to any degree of corroborated certainty at any rate) first raises the issue of racism with the referee. Such is Evra’s lack of composure that his own team mate, Ryan Giggs, offers uncontested testimony that he warned Evra that if he didn’t calm down that he faced being sent off altogether.
A distinctly plausible (probable ?) picture emerges, for even a half-interested skimming reader, of a man, in Evra, who is wound up from the get-go about captaining his team in this key match, and who is extremely wary of a dangerous opponent in Luis Suarez. He will have known full well (before the outset) that the Uruguayan was the danger man that he and his fellow defenders had to stop. At all costs, it seems. The process starts in that moment just before the hour when he attempts to get Suarez disciplined by deceitful means (hugely exaggerating injury, as the video evidence clearly shows), and builds and builds from there.
At the end of a difficult afternoon, Evra leaves the pitch a frustrated and angry player, aware that his team had finished a key game on the back foot, and that he as captain, had not acquitted himself with the dignity and composure required of his status.
He knows that at some point Suarez used the word ‘negro’ to him, and he cares little as to its intent or meaning, but recognises enough ‘n’s’ and ‘g’s’ and vowels to lay an easy (faux) racism charge on Suarez. He suspects that he only needs a camera to have captured Suarez mouth ‘negro’ and he’s got the Liverpool forward bang to rights. If that happens, Evra is a clear victim, and quite possibly his yellow card would be rescinded as a consequence, and his petulant nervy performance put into a better light.
Evra then decamps from the fray on 90 minutes and within a short space of time has in frustration presented a picture of himself as the victim of abuse to colleagues and a French TV crew, rather than mentally disintegrating aggressor the match day cameras capture. Once he has set a pernicious train in motion there is little turning back for him or the unfortunate Suarez, who finds himself collateral damage in Evra’s mind game.
The above is simply an alternative scenario that the FA’s panel were loath to engage. Perhaps what actually happened was simply that which Suarez credibly (according to the FA’s language experts) outlined in his 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 more
Therefore, he does not deny use of a word that could potentially cast him in a bad light (no credit is given to Suarez for this admission, whereas in Evra’s case he is ennobled by admitting to talking about Suarez’s sister’s pussy), only that he intended its use in any sense other than ‘why, bro?’ or ‘why pal?’ (‘por que negro?). The continuous and wilful translation of ‘negro’ as literally meaning ‘black’ is at minimum disingenuous on the part of the FA and the panel.
Aside from assessing credibility and probability, a key tenet upon which the FA chose to damn Suarez, was by his own word. They sought assistance in this execution from their expert witnesses at Manchester University. Interestingly though these experts note that in a ‘sneering’ situation the word ‘negro’ could not be applied benignly, they do not conclude that Suarez has to have actually been sneering in this case. To ascertain this, was not their brief. They conclude that Suarez’s version of events is linguistically entirely plausible, and that it was quite possible for him to use the ‘negro’ term inoffensively.
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 more generally.
The experts go further and conclude that Evra’s version of events in one of the exchanges, in particular, lacked credibility:
Mr Evra then asked “Why did you kick me”. According to Mr Evra, Mr Suarez replied “porque tu eres negro” (“because you’re black”). According to Mr Suarez, he replied “It was a normal foul”.
They expert testimony goes on to crucially observe :
The experts considered it worth noting that the phrase “porque tu eres negro” struck both of them as slightly unusual. In this instance, a direct racial slur would more likely have been something like “porque eres un negro de mierda” [because you are a shitty black].
Credibility should not have been Patrice Evra’s strong suit in the panel’s summation, nor should it have been deemed probable that in a crowded goalmouth, full of players, witnessed by cameras, and within the public’s earshot that one man could issue a volley of racist abuse at another, and it go entirely unheard. It simply defies belief.
The panel found it improbable that the non pejorative take on the word ‘negro’ could possibly be used in a confrontational situation and contented themselves with expert evidence that use of the word ‘negro’ in a argumentative context could only be racist.
Not possible then in English to angrily ask a man to ‘calm down pal’, or ‘leave it out mate’, or (to a woman) request that she ‘shut up love’ ? The word in each case that evokes rapport or endearment can be used slightly sarcastically but without its use implying that a ‘pal’ or a ‘mate’ is a bad thing in itself.
Suarez may have been ironically using an endearing or matey term with Evra, precisely because Evra was so patently not worthy of endearment or friendship, at that moment. Its use, in this context, would naturally have nothing to do with skin colour.
Of course, it can’t be ruled out that Suarez did say precisely that which Evra claimed he did (in one of his accounts) and that (the FA deemed) non racist Mr Suarez did just suffer a brain aberration and become a bad racist for one day, and that one day only.
It’s quite possible that he has utterly lied through his teeth and fooled all at Liverpool Football Club, and made mugs of supporters who chose to pay him the respect of looking at his situation beyond the mere two dimensions chosen by a last media. It’s possible, but it isn’t a very credible and the scenario isn’t highly probable, unless one approaches the whole affair with eyes only for the literality of the FA’s report and with prejudice firmly aforethought.