FIFA handed down its decision Thursday morning on the Luis Suárez biting incident, banning the Uruguayan and Liverpool striker from all soccer-related activities for four months, but the incident is raising questions on whether instant replay technology should be used in the World Cup. Suárez was also given a nine-game suspension from World Cup activities, which will start with Uruguay’s game against Colombia and extend to any games played by the Uruguayan national team.
A chairman for FIFA, Claudio Sulser, stated that the striker’s actions “cannot be tolerated” in soccer, especially at a worldwide event such as the World Cup. The committee’s decision took effect as soon as it was announced.
Suárez, who has been sanctioned twice in his career for biting opposing players, first claimed in a post-game interview that he simply collided with Giorgio Chiellini, and had not intended to bite him. When FIFA announced it would review a potential ban, Suárez’s lawyer, Alejandro Balbi, prepared every defense possible to exonerate his client.
Balbi called the bite “casual play,” and even went so far as to accuse England’s, Italy’s, and Brazil’s football associations of a “conspiracy” against Uruguay. The Uruguayan media, meanwhile, refused to acknowledge the bite even happened, claiming that the English media twisted the situation. Balbi also planned to turn blame onto Chiellini for reacting with an elbow to Suárez’s eye, saying if one player is banned for the altercation then both should be banned to be fair. FIFA has made no comments or moves to suggest it is even considering penalizing Chiellini.
Another person who has escaped FIFA’s wrath in the situation is referee Marco Rodriguez. The Mexican official waved a no-call on the incident during the game, despite the obvious teeth marks and red patch on Chiellini’s shoulder that could be seen clearly on the video replay. Gastón Ramírez even ran alongside Chiellini and tried to pull the Italian defender’s jersey back up to cover his teammates’ transgression. If Suárez had been issued a red card and ejected from the game, which would have been the appropriate consequence, Uruguay’s goal off of Diego Godín two minutes later very likely would not have happened, as the two teams would have been even with 10 men apiece.
Of course no one can truly say what would have happened or who would have won, and Suárez is receiving punishment with the ban, but the incident is raising questions on FIFA’s denouncement of using more technology in the World Cup in order to ensure referees get the calls correctly. Fouls committed away from the ball—such as Diego Costa of Spain delivering a headbutt to Dutch player Bruno Martins Indi—are often missed during the game and dealt with by FIFA after the fact.
The issue many fans have with this system is that the fouls, or the lack of immediate punishment for the fouls, often change the outcome of the game. In Costa’s case, Spain was already behind, and the Netherlands ended up with the win anyway. When Colombian women’s national player Lady Andrade punched United States forward Abby Wambach out of sight of the referee during the 2012 Summer Olympics, the U.S. still went on to win 3-0 and Andrade was suspended for two games. The U.S. went on to win the Gold, while Colombia never made it out of group play.
The Suárez biting incident is a different matter, though. Italy was already playing with 10 men due to a red card issued to Claudio Marchisio early in the second half. If instant replay existed in soccer, a fourth official would have reviewed the play, seen the evidence, and Suárez would have been removed from the game, leveling the playing field once again. Both teams would have played a much different style at that point, and the game would have more than likely ended in a tie, which would have advanced Italy in favor of Uruguay.
Suárez is being rightfully punished for his actions, but the fact that his violent foul contributed to Uruguay’s win and subsequent advancement raises questions about whether FIFA ought to implement replay technology for major incidents during World Cup games at the very least. As commentators have said in the wake of Tuesday’s incident, Suárez has served bans and suspensions in the past, and is still biting opponents. If his national team and home country were negatively affected as well, Suarez might finally learn his lesson.
Commentary by Christina Jones