I have had some interesting discussions this week regarding the whole Suarez v Evra racism storm - with Liverpool and Man United fans of all ages and placements, as well as with supporters of other clubs who have taken an interest in the subject. I made sure that before the 115 page document came out I was clear in saying that I currently defended Suarez until proven otherwise, and would certainly condemn him if found guilty. Club allegiance had no bearing whatsoever on a matter of racism.
FA Document Release
When the document was released on New Years Eve I was actually late to my annual party because I was so engrossed in its detail. Part two of my study happened the following evening before I felt comfortable in making comments and statements as to my beliefs. I do fear however that - although some other supporters did read the full document - plenty merely read journalistic summaries, skim read it, or skipped to the conclusions. When challenged on quoting the paragraphs from which they had drawn their conclusions they were awkwardly unable to do so. Given the job that I do, I believe the devil is in the detail. No stone unturned etc, and certainly no room for lazy assumption (on guilt or innocence).
Having gone through the FA's document with the finest of toothcombs, I can now categorically state that Suarez has not been legally proven, beyond all reasonable doubt, to be guilty. That is not to say he is innocent, nor to say he is guilty. Nor is it to say that Evra has lied or anyone else for that matter. Akin to the arguments I heard from several Man Utd and other club supporters, the conclusion was that he was 'on the balance of all probability, guilty'.
Lack of First Hand Evidence
Despite the introduction's claims otherwise, what transpired was very much one man's word against another. There was absolutely no other first hand primary evidence (remember your History GCSE?) of what occurred, other than the account by Patrice Evra, and the account by Luis Suarez. No other player hearing clearly what was said, no match official or steward overhearing the conversations, nor any video evidence that could be used for lip-reading. By my maths, that leaves a simple case of "his word against my word".
This stance therefore leaves the case at a stalemate. Suarez wasn't proven to be innocent by the Liverpool FC legal team, and the truth may still be that he said those words. but the burden of proof in law is to be proved guilty by the other side. The only fact emerging from the statements and hearing was that Suarez said the word 'negro' once - a statement of fact because two sides corroborated in that evidence. One piece of primary evidence backed up another piece of primary evidence. As one United fan said to me on Twitter "isn't one use of the word enough?" and it was very easy for me to agree with that stance.
The Need to Define Racism
I take two responses to this however. Firstly - to my mind, in my opinion etc - saying that someone is black is not an offence. Suggesting that person is a lesser human being because of it, IS an offence. Saying the person who works in my local chippy is a woman is not an offence. Saying she is a lesser person because of being a woman IS an offence. Secondly, saying the word once aggressively, may well be deemed an offence and warrants full investigation. However, even the linguistic experts invited on the case concluded that - given Suarez's upbringing for the majority of his life in Uruguay - the word may plausibly have been used offensively, or inoffensively. The panel were then left to draw their own conclusion from this split expert research.
Yet what of the published conclusion that Suarez used the word 7 times in total? If only one utterance was ever proved by both parties - and that utterance may or may not be innocent - where did the other 6 mentions come from? Evra made a full and frank claim as to the word's repeat usage which the panel took as fact. I am not for a second claiming that Evra was lying, and then neither am I saying that Suarez was lying. If you have two sides to a story, you naturally seek a third point of corroborating evidence to prove one side or another. I am crying out for a third witness or video evidence to categorically prove that ONE of them was telling the truth - then it is case closed. That third piece of evidence did not exist in the hearing.
Credibility v Truth
Thus it seems that the panel concluded Evra was probably factually correct because he was a more credible witness. I am worried for our footballing judicial system in a case of this importance to our game and national identity when a person's ability to compose their words well or stand up straighter in a court room is taken as the defining element of truth. It is of reasonable and plausible expectation that a non-English speaking man from a foreign country, whose reputation is being lambasted, is going to feel a little nervous. The panel also said that he changed his story along the way, but my reading of the document is that he was clarifying other people's (Kuyt and Commolli's) misinterpretation of his words rather than changing his own story.
The panel considered the intense rivalry between the two teams as grounds for either party becoming more heated and making statements that were obscured by emotion. They maintained that Evra stayed in control throughout - which I agree to his credit he largely did - and whilst including his vicious insult to Suarez, they did fail to include his provocation of the crowd seconds after he was fouled by Suarez on the touchline. After receiving treatment for what looked the smallest of taps (player overreaction blights our game and all teams are guilty including Liverpool), the usual Premier League player's impression of Verbal Kint was right on cue as his hobble became a limp and into a full jog back onto the pitch. What they failed to notice was his sarcastic kiss blown to the Lower Main Stand, which gave rise to 300+ furious fans. This is merely background evidence for the case, but I highlight it only to serve as further information that may affect a player's credibility on the day.
Probability is not a Grounds for Guilt
The real crime committed here is not Suarez making a racist comment or Evra being a liar. The real crime is that - by their own admission and intent - the case was deciding on 'all probability'. Whereas Liverpool's defence of their player was no doubt of the High Court bottom line - that is 'beyond all reasonable doubt' - the panel accepted they were to call judgment using the lower legal standard, and this is what supporters and journalists from all sides seem to have failed to fully appreciate.
The day when the English justice system drops to a level of convicting murderers, rapists, thieves and fraudsters on the basis of "they probably did it", is the day I leave this country. Thankfully the majority of the aforementioned criminals are convicted due to overwhelming factual evidence - DNA, witnesses, CCTV footage - the kind of which was abhorrently absent throughout this case.
Liverpool's Lack of Appeal
The fact that Liverpool did not appeal owes more to what I call 'social politics' rather than 'legal truths'. Given the part-time approach many commentators have taken on the subject, the lazy leaf-throughs of the case or "chill out...he's guilty" comments, Liverpool knew they were fighting a losing social battle and risked damaging the club's reputation overall. Several people (including some high profile well respected footballers) have stated that because the panel said 'guilty', then Suarez is guilty, and Liverpool should accept that fact.
Yet when you consider that the grounds for that judgement were faulty, you cannot sit comfortable with the conclusion.