Yesterday, according to media reports, the Uruguayan soccer team manager Oscar Tabarez gave a press conference in which he accused FIFA of making Louis Suarez a scapegoat and claimed the global criticism of the World Cup ‘biting’ incident in the Uruguay v Italy match had been whipped up by ‘English-speaking’ agitators.
Doing my level best to rein in anything resembling racially-motivated condescension and ‘holier-than-thou’ moral high ground rhetoric, this sort of ‘chip on the shoulder’ (‘circle the wagons and support your man’) reaction to what – in glib summary terms – amounts to a 9 match-four months ban on Suarez for his extraordinary action, does raise some interesting issues.
They call football the universal game, but does it have universal values to which all countries and cultures subscribe?
If so, are they still the Muscular Christian ‘Amateur’ ideals that guided the Victorian Englishmen who formed Football Association in 1863 and devised the original laws/rules which standardised the fashion and spirit in which the game was played?
Does the way the Western Europe nations – and their colonies – approach the game differ to that of Latin/Mediterranean/South American countries? If it does, is this simply down to differences in culture and/or the way in which different peoples do things?
Let us not forget that the world of football has been here before.
After all, the mild-mannered Alf Ramsey was once moved to condemn Argentina as “animals” after England beat the South American side 1-0 in the 1966 World Cup.
Much later – and in an entirely different context – no less a figure than Kenny Dalglish promoted a Liverpool FC ‘the world hates us but we don’t care’-type defence of Suarez, this after Suarez was accused of racially abusing Manchester United full back Patrice Evra, by wearing a Suarez-supporting T-shirt.
Is the reaction of Tabarez – and apparently, many Uruguayans – towards FIFA’s punishment of Suarez simply a ruse designed to get the fans behind the national team even more than they were previously as the ‘last 16’ stage of the World Cup begins, or is it borne of a genuine resentment and sense of injustice at the severity of the sentence?
Pardon me for being a Brit, but how can anyone in the world of football – even someone hailing from a country in South America – not appreciate than biting an opponent is not only unacceptable but entirely against the spirit in which the sport should be played? Especially when the perpetrator is a serial, repeat, offender?
However, let us also remind ourselves this is a continent in which two countries (El Salvador and Honduras in 1969) once went briefly to wear over the result of a football game.
One of the great aspects about this World Cup – indeed, any World Cup – is the diversity of the nations, not least their cultural norms, in the way they play the game of football. To see players from every continent in the world coming together in a quest to win a single, unifying, trophy is a wonderful thing.
It would be an even better one, not least in the context of the unimaginable commercialism that underpins the modern professional game, if they did so in an atmosphere in which the fundamental integrity of the sport reigned supreme.