Luis Suarez ban: Twitter sees the absurd side of over-the-top punishment for Liverpool and Uruguay striker

There is a wide divergence of opinion on social media

Social media is not always the best guide to public opinion, but it has been revealing on the Luis Suarez issue. Inevitably there are some saying he should be hung, drawn and quartered, and others arguing he has been framed. Many of the extreme judgements are partisan but even among ‘neutrals’ there is a wide divergence of opinion.

What is telling is how many humorous responses there are. Various themed menus, lots of references to Jaws and Hannibal Lecter and so on. Among the most notable is a photo of Giorgio Chiellini, the assaulted player, posing with a woman who is pretending to bite him. Chiellini is smiling. Another photo shows the Brazilian striker Fred pretending to chew on a team-mate.

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Then there is the video of Will Ferrell’s appearance at a US supporters’ event. He is introduced by Sunil Gulati, the president of the USSF, as a new player. Ferrell promises, to huge cheers, he will “bite every German player” if he has to, to win the game.

What is the relevance of all this? Imagine if Suarez had broken Chiellini’s leg with a wild tackle or shattered his eye socket with an elbow. How many jokes do you think there would be on Twitter then?

 

What Suarez did was unacceptable, gruesome and deserves punishment. But to a lot of people it is also rather funny, which is why Fifa’s sentence is disproportionate. Suarez obviously has a problem that manifests itself, when he is frustrated that events are not going his way, by biting. But for this he needs treatment from whichever mental health specialist is deemed appropriate, not one of the severest bans in the history of the game.

Part of the reaction is shaped by our long-standing and entirely understandable cultural horror of cannibalism. Suarez, though, was not actually trying to “eat” Chiellini any more than he was trying to “eat” Otman Bakkal or Branislav Ivanovic. He was trying to hurt them in a fit of temper, but not in a particularly brutal manner. Roy Keane’s assault on Alf Inge-Haaland shows what can happen when a player deliberately aims to injure another.

 

Of all the many tweets received following an article in this space on the subject yesterday, the most powerful was from a parks player who had been forced to undergo nine operations on his knee after suffering a two-footed tackle. His view was he would much rather have been bitten, and a three-match ban was sufficient.

 

Given Suarez’s repeated offences and the stage, I would have imposed the standard three-match ban for violent behaviour and added a ban from all football activities for the rest of the World Cup.

How much more imaginative and proportionate it would have been to make this a suspended sentence conditional on his undergoing treatment, to be activated if Suarez  reoffended or refused medical help.

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