BRASILIA, Brazil – FIFA got one right.
The world's governing soccer authority has suspended Uruguay superstar Luis Suarez for nine matches and four months from any soccer-related activity. It will extend into his season with Liverpool in the English Premier League and block his participation from next year's Copa America. The ban is a harsh and appropriate punishment for an appalling act – biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in a match on Tuesday.
There was no punishment too severe for Suarez, save perhaps a lifetime ban, as his soccer crimes were repeated and severely unsportsmanlike. The bite of Chiellini was his third such incident, and he was also given a suspension for racial slurs directed at Manchester United's Patrice Evra in 2011.
Suarez's responses to his own acts have been troublingly cavalier. He immediately flopped after sinking his teeth into Chiellini on Tuesday, falling to the turf and checking his teeth as if the Italian's shoulder was the culprit. After the game, he insisted "these collisions happen" in soccer, when in fact they do not.
[Related: Internet goes meme crazy after Suarez bite]
Suarez needs help. Biting is an ugly step down from kicking and even scratching. It's a sign of someone unable to control his emotions and properly respect others around him. We can only hope that losing the chance to honor his country with further play will serve as a wake-up call for Suarez, though there have been prior alarms. The 27-year-old from Salto has now been banned from 34 matches since 2010.
This is certainly the harshest penalty of all, as Suarez is one of the world's most talented players and he will be unable to represent his nation in the World Cup knockout round. A loss by Uruguay in the days or weeks ahead will be met with questions about whether his actions cost his team a chance to go further toward the championship. Ideally, those questions will somehow change the behavior of a player who is a sheer delight to watch when he's at top form.
This is also a victory for technology and social media. FIFA often gets these decisions wrong, and the endless loop of replays and photos and Internet discussion of Suarez's behavior surely made the soccer authority's decision unavoidable. Consider: Suarez is one of the most poorly behaved athletes in the world, and he hasn't received a single red card in the last four years. He was not given even a yellow card for his bite, despite the obvious marks on Chiellini's left shoulder. Chiellini himself summed it up best when he said after the incident: "Suarez is a sneak and he gets away with it because FIFA wants their stars to play in the World Cup," he said. 'I'd love to see if they have the courage to use video evidence against him.'
They did. And they didn't have a choice.
[Gallery: Luis Suarez bites Giorgio Chiellini]
"Such behaviour cannot be tolerated on any football pitch, and in particular not at a FIFA World Cup when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field," said Claudio Sulser, chairman of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee. "The Disciplinary Committee took into account all the factors of the case and the degree of Mr. Suárez's guilt in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Code."
This World Cup was supposed to be a breakthrough moment for technology, as goal-line cameras were supposed to make the event better for players and fans. It turned out other forms of technology – some old and some very new – helped right a serious wrong.
Suarez is gone, and the tournament is better off for it.
Click on the image below for more photos of the Luis Suarez incident:
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