December 21, 2011
Posted: 1309 GMT
The ruling by the Football Association to ban Liverpool and Uruguay striker Luis Suarez for eight matches and to fine him $63,000 for racial abuse has proved controversial for a number of reasons.
It is the first time the governing body of English football has disciplined a player on such terms, a move that has been welcomed by many in the game as tangible evidence that talk of "kicking racism out of football" has some teeth.
It also poses an interesting debate on the use of language and the meaning of words within context. Many would argue "negrito" – the term aimed by Suarez at Manchester United's black defender Patrice Evra – is tantamount to a nickname in places like Uruguay and carries no racial association in such regions.
Consequently, is it unfair of a European society like England to place the negative connotations associated with a more familiar "n" word on a similarly sounding, but harmless, moniker?
How much does the location and the audience dictate the definition of the word and indeed the offence? Liverpool, one of the most successful soccer clubs in the world, maintain it should be impossible to cause offence if only Evra heard the word in question. It was considerations like these that made the case so technical and in need of time-consuming assessment.
The fact the news of the 24-year-old striker's disciplining was followed swiftly by England captain John Terry being charged for allegedly using racist language, a criminal offence in Britain, means racism in football is once again making headlines.
Terry has always vehemently denied the allegations. The London-born defender issued this statement: "I am disappointed with the decision to charge me and hope to be given the chance to clear my name as quickly as possible," a sentiment he is sure to push on his day in court on February 1. Either way there will be scratching of heads in the hierarchy of the English game as to how one of the land's most respected players could find himself in such a situation.
The crux of the matter remains, however, that theoretical arguments on applying the letter of the law misses the more serious overarching point: football is no longer just a game.
The sport of soccer is the most popular sport on the planet by a long margin with nearly every region of the world displaying passion for the beautiful game. The broadcasting of live matches holds a captive global audience unlike any other form of entertainment.
The only event that can match the pulling power of the World Cup is the Olympic Games, and that comes only once every four years; football is played year round, week in, week out.
Footballers are the superstars of this drama and like any in-demand entertainer are paid handsomely for their talents. However, unlike other well-paid entertainers, too many footballers seem ignorant to the power of the stage they ply their trade on.
A football pitch used for the English Premier League and the European Champions League is not the same as a pitch at a local park; it is a television set that is broadcast to millions of viewers around the world.
Whether it's racist abuse, foul language or berating referees, is it really too much to ask that footballers comprehend that playing in front of television cameras demands behaviour that is acceptable for family viewing? A simple rationale maybe, but one which, if applied, would see the end of such offences.
There has also been an interesting line followed by both Andre Villas Boas, Terry's manager at Chelsea, and Kenny Dalglish, Suarez's boss at Liverpool, in their unwavering support of their players. Surely there comes a point where the coaches should say racism is not welcome at either club and if the players were to be found guilty or to lose their appeal (in Suarez's case) they will be subject to internal disciplinary action?