On Thursday the case of FIFA’s ruling on Luis Suarez was heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Representatives for Suarez contested the duration and rigour of his ban, incurred for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the recent World Cup. Aiming for a reduction on the four months he will be unavailable for domestic matches – Uruguay’s football association were party to Suarez’s initial appeal, levied directly at FIFA, over the nine international games – and a relaxation on the clause which restricted participation in all “football-related activities”, extending to public appearances, friendly matches and even training with new team Barcelona.
It was this move to Barcelona that left many anticipating something of a capitulation from football’s regulators. Such is the history of football’s supervisory bodies, especially FIFA, deferring to the wills of, in particular, the Catalan giants that even before his move to Barcelona had been completed people were already joking that Suarez’s four month ban would be substantially decreased should he make the change for the Nou Camp. FIFA, however, demonstrated their resolve in upholding the initial verdict, a productive decision which will help restore their reputation and authority.
The initial FIFA appeal took place long before his departure from Liverpool to Barcelona, who paid a reported £75 million for his services, and so the same anticipation of capitulation resurfaced when a subsequent appeal to the CAS was made following his arrival in the Spanish capital. While the CAS, an independent commission based in Lausanne, Switzerland, is an entirely separate entity to FIFA it too faced suggestions that it would bow to Barcelona’s wants. However, the CAS remained resolute and ruled in favour of maintaining the full duration of Suarez’s ban.The one area where lenience was shown was in substantially loosening the restrictions on “football-related activities”, permitting Suarez to train with his team – he had previously been training alone in a separate area of Catalonia. It also grants him the freedom to make public appearances, including playing in friendlies. This allowed Suarez a belated public unveiling yesterday at Barcelona’s preseason match with Club Leon of Mexico’s Liga MX, in which he also featured, coming on in the 77th minute and receiving a warm welcome from his new fans. It marked the first time he pulled on the famous Barcelona shirt.
While the CAS cemented their position as the highest judiciary in sporting matters FIFA similarly made strides in the restoration of their reputation in disciplinary matters, particularly where Barcelona are concerned. The aspersions cast around FIFA regarding its relationship with Barcelona do have merit, as evidenced by the seemingly indefinite suspension of a transfer embargo imposed April of 2014. Described by chairman of the FIFA court of appeals Larry Mussenden as a “suspensive effect”, this suspension of the original ruling, made despite FIFA’s initial findings that Barcelona’s behaviour regarding ten minors who were registered between 2009 and 2013 constituted a “serious” infringement, as well as allegations of tax evasion in the purchase of Brazilian wunderkind Neymar from Santos which FIFA similarly ignored, had led to suggestions of preferential treatment. The continued maintenance of Suarez’s refraining from playing may go some way to assuaging these concerns and restoring FIFA’s authority.
The outcome of the hearing will likely have productive aspects throughout football. Both FIFA and the CAS have demonstrated a blend of strong resolve and nonpartisan fairness in their reactions to Suarez’s situation, while the prospect of Suarez’s return to active duty coinciding with Barcelona meeting Real Madrid in El Clasico will whet the appetites of the Nou Camp and Bernabeu faithfuls alike.
How might FIFA build on these productive steps in the perception of their authority?