The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has found Luis Suarez guilty of biting Georgio Chiellini during Uruguay’s final Group D game against Italy on Tuesday. He has been suspended from international football for 9 matches and suspended from all football related activity for 4 months and handed a fine of around £65,000. He stands not to play competitive football again for his current club Liverpool before November. The penalty is believed to be the most severe ever imposed on a player in World Cup history. He has previously been sanctioned for biting an opponent on two other occasions whilst playing for Ajax in the Dutch Eredivese and Liverpool in the Premier League.
This blog aims to summarise what has happened and what is next for the controversial Liverpool and Uruguay star.
What has Suarez been found guilty of?
The FIFA press release explains that “[t]he Fifa disciplinary committee has decided that the player [has] breached article 48, paragraph one, of the Fifa disciplinary code and article 57 of the Fifa disciplinary code, which is an act of unsporting behaviour towards another player.”
What is the precise sanction imposed?
Suarez has been “suspended for nine matches and banned for four months from any football-related activity.” As explained via Twitter yesterday, there was always the possibility of Suarez being banned for all football related activity because Article 22 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code explicitly gives FIFA such an option.
At the time, many thought that such a ‘nuclear’ option would be less likely because it has not been previously used against a player retrospectively found guilty of unsporting behaviour. It is not clear at present whether FIFA took into account the previous Suarez biting incidents. Only when the written reasons for the decision are published will the decision rationale become clearer.
As such Suarez will certainly be suspended for the Uruguay game against Columbia on Saturday 28 June. In addition, Suarez cannot take part in any football related activity. This means he is banned from any stadium during the 4 month period and it is being reported that he cannot even remain in the Uruguay hotel with his team-mates.
Will Suarez appeal and can the ban be suspended until the appeal is heard?
Under Article 118(c) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FDC) an appeal can be lodged with the Appeal Committee if the sanction imposed is more than 2 matches or two months in length. Specifically, Article 124(2) of the FDC sets out that “the appeal does not have suspensive effect except with regard to orders to pay a sum of money”. Therefore if Suarez/Uruguay appeal the decision, the ban cannot be suspended at this initial appeal stage.
It appears that Uruguay have already confirmed that they will appeal the decision. AUF president Wilmar Valdez has said: “We are preparing our appeal now, we have three days to do it. It is an excessive decision and there was not enough evidence and I have seen more aggressive incidents recently.” Under FDC Article 120, an appeal should be lodged within 3 days of notification of the decision.
There is the additional possibility of a further appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Article 126(2) of the FDC. CAS does however have the power to suspend a ban pending the outcome of the appeal. The FIFA Appeal Committee would have to issue a decision however before any CAS procedure is engaged.
If Liverpool are affected, as Suarez is banned until November, can they appeal the sanction?
Article 119 of the FDC sets out who can appeal the decision. Interestingly, it appears that only those that were party to the initial decision and have a “legally protected interest” in amending or overturning the initial decision may lodge an appeal. This would suggest that even though Liverpool would have an interest in the appeal, as they were not party to the initial decision, they would not have standing to become involved. Article 119(2) of the FDC does however allow for national associations to appeal against decisions “sanctioning their players”. That may give the Football Association (the FA) the ability to appeal the Suarez sanction on Liverpool’s behalf. Many may think it unlikely that the FA would ask for a more lenient sanction for a player who scored the goals that effectively sent England home and whose disciplinary body has already banned Suarez for 10 games for his previous bite on Ivanovic.
What does the “any football related activity” ban mean for Suarez’s Liverpool career?
Suarez started the 2013-14 season late because of the 6 games remaining of his 10 game ban from the previous season’s bite on Chelsea’s Ivanovic. If he remains at Liverpool, it is believed he will be unavailable to play until November 1 and potentially miss 13 Liverpool matches. In addition, he will have to train alone, outside of Melwood, will not be able to go on pre-season tour and will not be allowed to watch any Liverpool games at Anfield or any other stadium during the period of the ban. It would presumably be difficult from a fitness and tactical perspective for him to be ready to play in November if he has not been able to participate in any training sessions with his team-mates.
Would Liverpool contemplate sacking Suarez and, if not, do they have to pay him whilst he is banned? Could they sell him?
The case of ex-Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu demonstrates the practical difficulties facing a club of recouping their transfer fee investment in a player if the player commits a fundamental breach of his contract and is sacked. Presumably the more practical solution for Liverpool, if they consider that Suarez does not have a future at the club, would be to make Suarez available for transfer, though his transfer value may suffer as a result.
Liverpool would also face the situation of having to pay Suarez’s wages whilst the player served a suspension for a ban imposed whilst not even playing for the club. Liverpool could discipline the player and there is precedent for internal disciplinary processes with Joey Barton being fined 6 weeks wages for his red card against Manchester City and Carlos Tevez being fined 4 weeks wages after refusing to come off the substitutes bench in a Champions League match against Bayern. Manchester City wrote to the Professional Footballers Association to ratify the length of the fine. Liverpool may explore a similar approach to consider the appropriate length of time that a fine could legitimately be imposed for.
Lastly, FIFA confirmed that Liverpool could still sell Suarez and he could register for another club. The ban would still however remain in place.