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Big bite at World Cup football

Published:Thursday | July 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Devon Dick

On Monday, after mature reflection, Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez pledged that he would not bite another footballer. Suarez did away with the defence as if nothing had happened. The apology could have been more fulsome, in that he called the incident with Italian Giorgio Chiellini a "collision". Nevertheless, he apologised to the player and football fraternity.

Chiellini has been very gracious in accepting the apology quickly and, from early, he claimed that Suarez's punishment was "excessive". The Old Testament states an important principle of an eye for an eye. This dictum is not to be taken literally. Instead, it is about the punishment being equivalent to the crime. One should not use a sledge hammer to kill an ant.

Though Suarez's action was infantile and unprovoked, the nine-match ban from playing for his country and four-month ban from all forms of football seem excessive. Suarez did not bite off a piece of Chiellini's ear as former boxing champion Mike Tyson did to former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. Suarez left bite marks. If Suarez had bitten off a piece of flesh, then punishment of that magnitude would have been justified.

Bite marks can be compared with marks left on a player by the studs from the football boots of another player. Therefore, a four-match ban and fine would have been adequate. A player would normally be sent off and given a possible three-match ban.


In 2006, Zinedine Zidane was punished by FIFA for headbutting Italy's Marco Materazzi during the World Cup final. Zidane was fined €3,000 and banned for three games. Materazzi was also punished for provoking the former French captain, with a two-game suspension and a €2,000 fine. A headbutt is similar to a bite and should be given similar punishment.

In addition, some tackles can be more dangerous and career-ending than a bite mark. These tackles need greater attention and greater punishment. Some of these tackles which result in yellow cards should carry additional punishment such as 10 minutes off the field.

In addition, there is danger of using video evidence to convict Suarez. The danger is deciding when to use it, after a game and the evidence can be inconclusive. In this World Cup, elbowing has been missed, handball in the penalty area has been missed, diving has been missed. Should there have been a panel to investigate these infractions? I say no. In fact, that has largely been the attitude of FIFA.

In 2006, French captain Thierry Henry intentionally handled the ball to set up William Gallas' decisive goal against the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup play-off in Paris. Ireland did not make it to the 2010 World Cup. Some persons would say 'God nah sleep' because France was unceremoniously dumped from the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa. The referee missed it and FIFA said there is nothing they could do. Henry was not punished.

What should be done is to allow each team a maximum of two unsuccessful challenges per match. Therefore, penalties, offsides and serious fouls calls can be challenged by either the captain or the coach. A fifth official could look at the video technology and make a ruling. If a team does not challenge the referee's decision, then what happens on the field stays there. If it is missed by the referees and the player, then that is the end of the matter.

Let's hope FIFA will reduce the ban on Suarez.

Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@