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'Patriotism', 'honour' and Luis Suarez

Last updated on: June 28, 2014 16:55 IST

'Patriotism', 'honour' and Luis Suarez

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The way some Uruguayan fans have reacted to the Suarez incident shows how black and white facts can be spun into shades of grey, writes Devangshu Datta.
Uruguay's striker Luis Suarez has hogged the headlines at this football World Cup. Señor Suarez turned his team's fortunes around with two strikes against England. But it is not his unquestioned ability to score goals that has made him trend.

Suarez's attack on Giorgio Chiellini when he bit the Italian defender on the shoulder was the latest in a long series of public displays of aggression. He has bitten at least three opponents while playing for Ajax Amsterdam, Liverpool and now Uruguay. He reportedly headbutted a referee in a junior game. And, of course, at the 2010 World Cup, he received a red card for deliberately handling the ball. He has had other disciplinary problems, including indulging in racist abuse while at Liverpool.

The facts are hard to dispute. Suarez bites people; he is a scofflaw; he is a racist. Most fans outside Uruguay would write him off as an out-of-control gunslinger, who should literally be muzzled before being allowed on to a field again. Opinions may differ as to the quantum of punishment he deserves. He will, at the least, lose endorsement deals and see a drastic reduction of transfer value. Perhaps, he will develop an alternative revenue stream endorsing anti-rabies vaccines.

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Image: Uruguay's Luis Suarez (right) reacts after clashing with Italy's Giorgio Chiellini
Photographs: Tony Gentile/Reuters

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In his homeland, Suarez remains a hero

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In his homeland, Suarez remains a hero. The two World Cup incidents are processed very differently there. As the fans in Montevideo see it, Suarez sacrificed himself selflessly in 2010, when he handled the ball against Ghana. The 2014 incident is also being seen as a calculated gesture, from a patriot.

In 2010, the Ghana-Uruguay quarter-final match was tied 1-1. Ghana's Dominic Adiyah got in a header from a goalmouth melee. Suarez had punched it off the goal line when it looked to be a certain goal. Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty. Uruguay played out extra time a man short, after Suarez got the mandatory red card. The Latin Americans won a penalty shootout. Playing without Suarez, despite Diego Forlan's heroics, Uruguay lost the semi-finals 2-3 to Holland. They also lost the third-place play-off to Germany by the same score.

It is relatively easy to justify 2010. There were "neutrals", who defended Suarez's action. What he did was blatantly cynical. But it gave his country a small chance to go one match further in the World Cup and it wasn't a physical assault. Assuming Suarez had time to think, he would also have known that he was headed for an automatic suspension. In that sense, it was indeed selfless.

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Image: Uruguay's fans gather to express solidarity with player Luis Suarez while they await his arrival outside Montevideo's Carrasco international airport
Photographs: Carlos Pazos/Reuters

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In his homeland, Suarez remains a hero

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However, the Uruguayan patriots' spin on the 2014 biting incident walks into the realm of the absurd. The Uruguay federation is duty-bound to defend its player in the best way it can. But some Uruguay fans (and the team itself) have tried to justify the bite as a casual incident - one that is no big deal in a game characterised by hard tackles.

Others have found a very convoluted way to justify the bite. Here goes: Italy was coasting through on superior goal difference when Suarez clamped onto Chiellini's shoulder late in the second half. It was an off-the-ball attack, which meant that the referee did not see it. That bite utterly destabilised the Italians, who were more interested in trying to draw attention to it than playing football.

Uruguay forced a corner immediately, before the Italian defence had recovered its focus. That corner resulted in the winning goal. This bite might not have been quite as selfless as the 2010 handball but it was equally effective. Indirectly, it created a goal.

To the unbiased, 2010 looked like a reflex action and 2014 seemed like a vicious, unprovoked assault. But history is rarely written by the unbiased. When buzzwords like "patriotism" and "honour" start doing the rounds, the facts cease to matter and the interpretation rules. This is an interesting illustration of how black and white facts can be spun into multiple shades of grey.

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Image: A man holds his arm in front of an advertising placard showing Uruguay's striker Luis Suarez flashing his teeth, at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro
Photographs: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

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