It will be tough to get ban overturned

Fifa’s decision to ban Luis Suarez from international competition for nine matches and from all football-related activities for four months is unusual in its reach, but that alone does not guarantee an appeal will be successful.

It will be tough to get ban overturned

Normally, Fifa disciplinary sanctions are only applicable to Fifa competitions. However, the Fifa Disciplinary Code provides that for serious infringements, other bodies can request extension of their sanctions so that they have worldwide affect. If no request is forthcoming, Fifa can decide to do so of its own accord.

But with the stakes so high in this case, we can look forward to a vigorously contest appeal. What form might this take?

Appeals against Fifa rulings may “object to inaccurate representation of the facts and/or wrong application of the law”. Any appeal will seek to highlight weaknesses in the “proof” of the bite and possible prejudice against Suarez.

The question of how to deal with the biting incident may have seemed simple to many. The verdict from the court of public opinion was instant: he’s done it before, and he’s done it again. Ban him.

Things are a little more complicated for Fifa, and the case had to be handled with the utmost care, especially if it is to withstand an appeal.

To the public and media, Suarez was guilty until proven innocent. However, in disciplinary proceedings, the burden of proof rested squarely on Fifa to show that Suarez definitely bit Giogio Chiellini (or, at the very least, that he attempted to do so, which is also punishable). Any type of evidence was admissible for this purpose, including video evidence and expert reports such as a doctor’s examination of the alleged bite marks. It is unclear if medical evidence was provided and while pictures of the Italian’s shoulder were suggestive of a bite, they were not definitive.

Peter Clohessy could tell a tale on this count. He was bitten by Castres player Ismaela Lassissi when playing for Munster in a Heineken Cup match in 2002. Lassissi was banned for a year but successfully appealed. Castres produced a pathologist who testified that the bite was not of human origin.

No one is suggesting this here (at least not yet!), but it shows the importance of clear and incontrovertible evidence.

The same could be said of the video evidence of the clash between the two players. Most of the footage shows Suarez moving his head so that his face made contact with his opponent, but does not clearly show a biting motion. One angle is clearer, but is still far less definitive than the footage of Suarez’s previous biting offence against Chelsea player Branislav Ivanovic.

Arguably, the most damning piece of evidence against Suarez on this occasion was the fact that he has done this twice before. If another player had been involved in the clash, nobody would have looked at the footage and thought a bite had occurred. Suarez being Suarez, however, it was the first place most viewers’ minds went to.

The problem with this from the perspective of due process is that an offence should be considered on its own merits. Prior history of similar offences is relevant to the determination of penalty, but not of guilt. The fact Suarez had bitten two previous opponents during matches does not, of itself, prove he has bitten a third.

Of course, had the referee seen the incident and acted on it at the time, it is highly likely Suarez’s prior history of biting would have influenced that decision. How often do we hear it said that a player’s reputation counted against him when sent off?

Referees have to make decisions in a matter of seconds under enormous pressure. A Fifa disciplinary committee, by contrast, has the benefit of time to deliberate and reflect before making a ruling, and it seems reasonable to expect a higher standard of due process to apply.

Fifa rules give their judicial bodies “ultimate discretion regarding proof”, and unusually, state that judicial bodies shall decide cases “on the basis of their personal convictions”. Under such a discretionary framework, Suarez may have a steep hill to climb in overturning his ban.

Dr Conor O’Mahony, UCC senior lecturer, Faculty of Law

Suarez: Who is affected by Fifa’s decision?

Luis Suarez

Up until the Giorgio Chiellini incident, Luis Suarez had solidified his status amongst the most gifted players to grace this particular World Cup with a stunning brace in the 2-1 defeat of England.

There is little doubt the Liverpool striker’s psychological issues remain unresolved and this latest episode will see Suarez marked absent from 34 fixtures since 2010 despite never receiving a red card.

Uruguay

Oscar Tabarez leads Uruguay into their last-16 clash with Colombia knowing a tactical reshuffle is necessary following Luis Suarez’s expulsion.

Suarez’s absence severely dents Uruguay’s chances of progressing and the South Americans must plan for next year’s Copa America in Chile without the services of their most potent attacking weapon.

Liverpool

The Anfield club knew the risks involved in retaining the services of their combustible striker following his 10-match suspension for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.

Yet, they have every right to feel aggrieved at Fifa’s punishment considering Suarez wasn’t representing Liverpool at the time of his latest indiscretion.

Suarez left Ajax while serving a similar ban for biting so perhaps negotiating a big-money transfer to a foreign club might be the best course of action for both parties.

Brendan Rodgers

Liverpool’s manager has lost the services of his mercurial striker for nine Premier League fixtures, possibly two Carling Cup ties plus three Champions League group encounters.

Suarez isn’t scheduled to feature until November 1 against Newcastle United leaving Daniel Sturridge to lead Brendan Rodgers’ side’s attack.

Rickie Lambert has been recruited from Southampton but in all probability, whether Suarez stays or goes, Rodgers will need to get the chequebook out again.

Fifa

Announcing Luis Suarez’s punishment to a worldwide audience couldn’t have come at a better time.

Football’s governing body were desperate for some good PR on the back of a recent spate of bad press surrounding Qatar’s World Cup 2022 bid plus Sepp Blatter’s intention to seek re-election as president.

- by Ger McCarthy

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