By Stuart Gilhooly, the solicitor for the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland who was also recently named Journalist of the Year at the Irish Magazine Awards.
It seems as though Liverpool and Luis Suarez have finally closed the door on an unsavoury episode in their history and that of the English FA. Not without slamming it shut, mind, and taking the hinges as they went. With great reluctance, and no little chutzpah, both parties have conceded defeat but heavily indicated that they feel a huge injustice has been done.
While this case isn’t quite the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four and it’s unlikely Daniel Day Lewis will be claiming he is an innocent man in Rioplatense Spanish anytime soon, there are flaws in the decision which would rendered them a reasonable chance of success on appeal. Although it’s no longer of huge significance, this is a saga which is likely to rumble on and I thought it might be useful to examine the areas where the FA regulatory commission has erred so at least we have a flavour of from where Liverpool and Suarez’s grievances emanate.
Since New Year’s Eve, when a 115 page tome landed in our inboxes, many opinions have been expressed as to whether the FA Regulatory Commission has got it right or wrong. Most have jumped to the conclusion that since the report is well written, very long, detailed and presented in nicely worded legalese, that it must be correct.
The truth, like with many tribunal decisions and, indeed most likely the case itself, lies somewhere in-between. There is much to be admired in the manner in which the commission dissected very complex linguistic issues as well as the nuances of what was said and not said. They have reported the facts in great detail and the result is that many of us are in a position to draw our conclusions.
That said, the report’s findings are somewhat flawed and, in particular, the sanction meted out is completely out of line with the evidence and even the commission’s own conclusions.
I should say, at this point, I am a Liverpool fan but also the solicitor for the PFAI, the League of Ireland’s players’ union. Although my allegiances are naturally with Luis Suarez, I’d like to think that I would take a similar view if a League of Ireland player asked me to represent them in similar circumstances. Indeed, I have defended an Irish player, Jason McGuinness, where allegations of insulting behaviour with racial overtones were made. He received a five match ban.
The Suarez case is unique in its complexity but in the end it comes down to some fairly basic questions.
1. What is the burden of proof?
2. Did Suarez use the word “negro” and, if so, how often?
3. If he did use this word, what should the punishment be?