How can Suarez legally defend against a ban from football for his World Cup “bite”?

Published 26 June 2014 By: Kevin Carpenter

Luis Suarez
On the evening of Tuesday 24 June a global TV audience, along with those in attendance at the stadium, looked on aghast at the actions of Luis Suarez during the match between Uruguay and Italy in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil as in the 77th minute he appeared to bite an Italian defender on the shoulder. Both the media and the general public have been quick to castigate Mr Suarez and try to pre-judge the FIFA Disciplinary Committee who will hear the case. This blog looks at the approach a lawyer could take defending Mr Suarez before the FIFA Disciplinary Committee.
In the 77th minute during the final Group D match between Uruguay and Italy in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil the Uruguayan striker, Luis Suarez, appeared to bite the Italian defender, Giorgio Chiellini, on the shoulder, with Mr Chiellini running to the referee and pulling his shirt down to reveal what appeared to be a bite mark.1 The match officials took no action at the time but given the amount of cameras in the stadiums for the World Cup it was of little surprise that the next morning FIFA released a statement2 announcing they had opened disciplinary proceedings against Mr Suarez and charged him for an apparent breach of Articles 48 (Misconduct against opponents or persons other than match officials) and/or 57 (Offensive behaviour and fair play) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (‘FDC’)3 on the basis of the video replays of the incident.  Both the media and the general public have been very quick to castigate Mr Suarez and try to pre-judge the FIFA Disciplinary Committee4 who will hear the case by a latest of the morning of Thursday 26 June and have jumped to the conclusion that he is guilty, given he has committed the same offence twice previously in domestic football, and should be banned for a considerable period of time. However, lawyer Alejandro Balbi has been instructed by Mr Suarez and/or the Uruguayan Football Association (‘UFA’) to defend him in these proceedings so that he can continue to participate in the knock-out stages of the tournament for Uruguay.5 

How might Mr Balbi go about trying to defend Mr Suarez?

(Dis)Proving the offence 

The charges against Mr Suarez have been brought under the FDC. Interestingly, in addition, Article 11 of the Regulations 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil6, which covers ‘disciplinary matters’ at sub-section 3, “in addition [to the Disciplinary Code], the players agree in particular to; (a) respect the spirit of fair play [and] non-violence; (b) behave accordingly.” This highlights the high importance FIFA quite rightly places on the reputation of its tournament in the global spotlight.

From the video evidence that has been seen around the world so far, it certainly seems that on what is referred to in the FDC as the Committee’s “personal convictions” (Article 97(3)), a standard of proof said by CAS to equate to the unique sporting “comfortable satisfaction” standard7, that Mr Suarez did indeed bite Mr Chiellini. Therefore, as the lawyer defending Mr Suarez, you would have to look for clear video evidence from a different angle that he did not bite Mr Chiellini. This will require trawling through footage from the numerous cameras around the stadium that may provide a different and, hopefully, better viewing angle. Indeed, in the press release, FIFA make a point of mentioning that under Article 96 of the FDC “any type of proof may be produced in particular are admissible…video recordings”.

 

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Kevin Carpenter

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin is a advisor and member of the editorial board for LawInSport, having previously acted as editor. In his day-to-day work he has two roles: as the Principal for his own consultancy business Captivate Legal & Sports Solutions, and Special Counsel for Sports Integrity at leading global sports technology and data company Genius Sports.

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