Sam Wallace: Three wise men damned either way in Suarez case

 

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The Independent Online

The three men of the Independent Regulatory Commission sitting in judgment on Luis Suarez's racial abuse charges will rise this morning, eat breakfast, flick through the newspapers and then go back to the worst job in football.

Whichever way their judgment goes, Paul Goulding QC, Denis Smith (former manager of Sunderland, among others) and Brian Jones (Sheffield and Hallamshire Football Association chairman) will be held up by an element of one set of supporters as incompetent, biased, useless – maybe even worse. You might say they are on a hiding to nothing.

The FA's charges against Suarez, which allege racism, touch a nerve that goes right through British society, never mind football.

What Goulding, Smith and Jones have to decide is whether Suarez's language (and the word negrito seems to be the key, although it has never been officially confirmed) towards Patrice Evra in Liverpool's home game against Manchester United on 15 October constituted racial abuse.

The backdrop to this is the most embittered rivalry in English football. This is United v Liverpool in 2011, a fixture that draws bigger worldwide television audiences than Barcelona v Real Madrid. It is, on many levels, pure hatred. Throw into that mix a complicated race row with all sorts of nuances to do with language and cultural norms and you have a disciplinary case best described as a hospital pass. And that is before the conspiracy theories begin circulating.

The latest one, doing the rounds on Twitter, is a corker. Some Liverpool fans claim the commission is biased against Suarez because of the presence of Smith, who was manager of Sir Alex Ferguson's son Darren when he was a player at Wrexham. They also point to glowing remarks made by Smith about Ferguson in the former's autobiography.

What those who make these accusations have overlooked is that both clubs have the power of veto over any member of an independent regulatory commission. At any point leading up to this case, Kenny Dalglish or Ian Ayre could have objected to Smith's presence.

So while the knives are sharpened for Smith in the event of a guilty verdict for Suarez, it should be known that no one at Liverpool objected to him. If they had, he would not be there. In fact, it is rare indeed for a club to object to the appointments on an independent commission. Those I spoke to could not recall the last time it had happened.

Why? Because clubs are realistic about the small-world nature of English football. Finding a connection between someone who has worked at a fairly significant level in the game and does not know either Ferguson or Dalglish or both is hard. These are two of the best-connected figures in the game.

The independent regulatory commissions that sit in these cases draw upon three groups of individuals who are nominated by the FA and endorsed by the clubs. There is a group of around 12 from which commission chairmen are selected, usually those with a background in the law, of which Goulding is one.

There is a group of around 20 "football experts", from which Smith is drawn. Then there are 20 FA councillors who have a specific background in disciplinary cases, the group from which Jones was selected. All three would have been carefully picked, not just on the basis of impartiality but also on training and experience.

The FA has charged Suarez with "abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour" towards Evra "which included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race". Liverpool and Suarez reject those allegations and the FA, now acting as the prosecution, are regarded by the club as the enemy.

But to pre-judge the three men who have been selected to make this decision as true independents, endorsed and approved by both clubs, really does take this complicated, sensitive, dispiriting episode to a new low. Whatever side you find yourself on, at least acknowledge that these three, who reconvene today, have taken on a nightmare of a case. Because someone had to.

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