England’s FA taking the narrow view

Over the past two months, the English Football Association has been the target of considerable criticism that has indicated the double standards of rulings the body has made. Only a few weeks ago, while dispensing harsh measures to Premier League players who kicked other players ruthlessly, they went to Switzerland and mounted a stern defence of Wayne Rooney’s inexcusable behaviour during his last England match. This defence eventually led to a reduction of his international ban.

The FA is again at the centerof controversy. This time, they have imposed an eight-match suspension on Luis Suarez for allegedly calling Patrice Evra “negro” while the two players exchanged words in Spanish – a fact that was not been given enough attention until the ban was announced.

The aim here is not to defend Suarez, who has built up a record of offences including gesturing to Fulham fans recently and even biting an opponent in the ear before he left the Netherlands. Instead, I will focus on the main question that has concerned me since a few important facts regarding what happened between these two players were published by Henry Winter in the Daily Telegraph on December 15.

My question is simple: Why was Luis Suarez charged while Patrice Evra was not?

There are two main reasons for this lack of consistency when it comes to tackling a crucial issue such as racism. Firstly, from the perspective of the FA, it may have seemed more logical to single out the player who made a reference to the other’s skin colour, thus demonstrating a very narrow understanding of what exactly constitutes racism. Secondly, the FA disciplinary panel may have chosen Suarez because he is a Latin American player, and thus probably an easier target.

For the FA it seems that any reference to a player’s skin colour is, regardless of the context, a form of racial abuse. Suarez is no saint but in the context of a conversation held in Spanish, the word “negro”, in its Spanish pronunciation, probably would have not borne a racist connotation by him or to any other Latin American since, according to the Real Diccionario de la Lengua Española, in some South American countries (including Uruguay), the word “negro” is commonly used to refer to partners and close friends.

It is true that Suarez should have known that he is not playing in Uruguay but in England. However, at the same time, the FA should be looking at educating and integrating foreign players who have recently arrived, instead of throwing the book at them as they have done with the Uruguayan.

Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra fight for the ball in the match which hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

More importantly, the FA may be missing the point that racial discrimination refers not only to someone’s skin colour, but also to race, descent, ethnicity and nationality. If, as Henry Winter and others have claimed, Evra told Suarez “don’t touch me, you South American” in a pejorative way, then he should have been charged right away, too. Abuse based on an individual’s skin colour is no worse than abuse based on an individual’s country of origin. In neither case does the individual have a choice; and, just for the record, Latin Americans have been discriminated against and abused throughout history, just as African and African-descendants have been.

In the United Kingdom, the Latin American community is a small one when compared other minorities. The voices of their members are not as loud and influential as those of their Asian and African counterparts. Thus, when subjected to discriminatory treatment, their capabilities to respond are more limited. There are several examples of this lack of muscle, especially in the media.

One infamous example springs to mind. Not long ago Jeremy Clarkson called Mexicans “lazy, feckless and flatulent” in an episode of Top Gear. When many of us complained, instead of apologizing, Clarkson responded with another racist rant claiming that the Mexicans did not have an Olympic team because “anyone who can run, jump, or swim is already across the border”.

The saddest part of the story is that Clarkson got away with it. Had he abused Pakistanis or Indians in a similar way, two of the largest groups of foreign nationals in the UK, the end of the story would have probably been much different. In the same way Clarkson did, Evra may get away with it, because to the FA, at least for now, being called “South American” or a “sudaca” in a pejorative way is not as serious as being called “negro”.

Latin American players have had a profound impact on English football for a few decades now. They enrich the spectacle that is football. They also come from places where Spanish and Portuguese are the main languages and where cultural attitudes and outlooks on the world are markedly different.

If England wants Latin American talents to keep coming its way, we also need to accept that we should teach these players what is and what is not correct here, instead of making them political scapegoats. More importantly, we need to protect these players against any sort of abuse based on race, color, ethnicity and nationality, regardless of where this abuse comes from. We should all be making a stand against racism – the FA, players, coaches and fans – but that stand has to be fair and apply equally to all those who use racist epithets on and off the pitch.