FIFA Earns Rare Praise with Swift Handling of Luis Suarez's Latest Bite

Alex DimondUK Lead WriterJune 26, 2014

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The benefits of being an organisation accountable to no one is that, just occasionally, you can accelerate the process of justice without being held up by red tape.

When it comes to World Cup bidding processes and general governance, FIFA's executive committee may operate in an often questionable, and occasionally unethical, fashion, but on Thursday, it demonstrated a rare beneficial side to that "streamlined" organisational structure.

Acting decisively and efficiently, FIFA's executive committee banned Luis Suarez from international matches for nine games and all football-related activities for four months after deciding he was guilty of biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay's match against Italy on Tuesday.

With Suarez's bite—the third such incident of his career—taking place on football's biggest stage and being replayed and debated endlessly on television channels and social media around the world in the hours and days since, FIFA knew it had to act quickly to sate the public outcry.

Indeed, in announcing Suarez's punishment (he has also been fined 100,000 Swiss francs, or £66,000), disciplinary committee chairman Claudio Sulser acknowledged that the stage of Suarez's crime played a part in the size of the punishment he received.

"Such behaviour cannot be tolerated on any football pitch, and in particular not at a FIFA World Cup when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field," Sulser said, via FIFA's media release. "The Disciplinary Committee took into account all the factors of the case and the degree of Mr Suarez's guilt in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Code."

Such was the haste with which FIFA reached its decision, Suarez's employers, Liverpool, scarcely knew how to respond themselves.

"Liverpool Football Club will wait until we have seen and had time to review the FIFA Disciplinary Committee report before making any further comment," CEO Ian Ayre said in a short club statement.

The "further" seemed unnecessary.

NATAL, BRAZIL - JUNE 24:  Giorgio Chiellini of Italy pulls down his shirt after a clash with Luis Suarez of Uruguay (not pictured) as Gaston Ramirez of Uruguay looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Italy and Uruguay at Estad
Julian Finney/Getty Images

If the punishment caught some by surprise, Suarez appeared to know the storm that was about to envelope him from the moment he walked off the pitch in Natal.

Now, he knows the full extent of it: He will not be allowed to set foot on a pitch until the end of October and will play no further part in Uruguay's World Cup campaign—even if they go all the way to the final.

The ban's length matches the longest FIFA has ever handed down to a player. In 2002, Portugal striker Joao Pinto was suspended for an identical period after he was found guilty of striking the referee during a World Cup game against South Korea.

In practice, it is perhaps only a three-month ban, as Suarez was unlikely to be involved in any competitive fixtures between the end of Uruguay’s World Cup campaign (which could come as soon as this weekend vs. Colombia) and the start of the Premier League season on August 16 anyway.

But the effects of his ban are likely to drag on for a number of weeks beyond his scheduled October 27 return, when he will be eligible to play once more. Unable to join his Liverpool team-mates for training, unless Suarez diligently follows a tailored training regime in his own time, it may be another few weeks (if not a month) before he is in the required physical shape to resume playing.

Even then, he will still be banned from representing his country for at least five games, an honour that clearly means a lot to him judging by his tearful reaction to his match-winning performance against England back on June 19.

Fortunately for him, his absence may not be that significant—Uruguay, as titleholders, are already qualified for next summer's Copa America, a tournament Suarez (assuming no further disciplinary issues) may be available for.

The ban will not prevent Suarez from switching clubs this summer, however, which may prove a more significant element in the fullness of time.

B/R's Guillem Balague has told Sky Sports that both Barcelona and Real Madrid are keen to sign the forward (yes, despite his latest indiscretion), and faced with the prospect of being without him for the start of a Premier League campaign for the second season in a row, Liverpool may decide his talent is not worth the hassle.

NATAL, BRAZIL - JUNE 24:  Head coach Oscar Tabarez of Uruguay hugs Luis Suarez after a 1-0 victory over Italy during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Italy and Uruguay at Estadio das Dunas on June 24, 2014 in Natal, Brazil.  (Photo by
Julian Finney/Getty Images

FIFA will not be concerned about that, however, beyond the possible negative perception there may be that Suarez has benefited from his misbehaviour in earning a move to one of the world's biggest clubs. No, FIFA's biggest concern has already been realised as Uruguay has said they will appeal the decision, claiming the penalty is 'excessive.'

The case will be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which has made provisions for an "ad-hoc" panel in Brazil specifically for potential World Cup issues such as this.

Uruguay will try and get Suarez reinstated for the rest of the tournament, although article 124 of FIFA's disciplinary code prevents that tactic from being used as a "suspensive effect" (i.e., to delay the punishment until after Sunday's game against Colombia).

However, CAS promises to "summon the parties to a hearing on very short notice immediately upon receipt of the application [of appeal]," meaning in theory, his case could be heard and overturned before Sunday's last-16 match.

Unfortunately, he is highly unlikely to be successful in that bid, with CAS likely to uphold FIFA's decision unless the striker can produce compelling evidence in his defence.

With that seeming improbable, the greater risk is that CAS, now handling the case, will extend his punishment. FIFA, eager to avoid this distasteful scenario being dragged out further by a messy public appeal, will surely be counselling the player and his team that any attempts to fight the decision would not be in their best interests.

Even so, it is difficult to predict the reaction of the Uruguayan FA. In recent days, it has become clear that the country feels there is something of an agenda against Suarez.

"You shouldn't forget that we're rivals of many and we can be for the hosts [Brazil] in the future," Suarez's lawyer, Alejandro Balbi, was quoted as saying this week (via The Guardian). "This does not go against what might have happened but there's no doubt that Suarez is a stone in the shoe for many."

Whether that view is supported sufficiently for the team to lodge an appeal remains to be seen. Early unsubstantiated rumors on social media suggested Uruguay might even withdraw from the tournament in protest at the decision, although that has the ring of a hollow threat.

Nevertheless, that is a route that may be moved down in the coming days. For now, however, FIFA has acted promptly and effectively. Those clamouring for Suarez to be punished severely have been given their wish.

The question now is whether any of it will have an impact on Suarez's future conduct, whether or not he bites again.

That will ultimately define how effective today's decision will be.