Things got a little heated at Old Trafford yesterday, when Liverpool player Luis Suarez refused to shake the hand of Man United’s Patrice Evra before the match. A complaint from Evra, following a game between the two teams in October last year had resulted in Suarez receiving an eight match ban and a £40k fine. Evra, who admitting telling Suarez that his sister was a whore, claimed Suárez racially abused him “at least 10 times”.
At half time, Evra is said to have squared up to Suarez in the tunnel, “thus sparking a melee as United and Liverpool players pushed and shoved each other with police taking up to five minutes to restore order and calm”.
Worth noting though, is the fact that despite being found to have used insulting words, including a reference to Evra’s colour, Suarez has received support from fellow Uruguayan footballers and the supporters and management at Liverpool, who stated:
It is key to note that Patrice Evra himself in his written statement in this case said ‘I don’t think that Luis Suarez is racist’. The FA in their opening remarks accepted that Luis Suarez was not racist.
Luis himself is of a mixed race family background as his grandfather was black. He has been personally involved since the 2010 World Cup in a charitable project which uses sport to encourage solidarity amongst people of different backgrounds with the central theme that the colour of a person’s skin does not matter; they can all play together as a team.
Man U on the other hand appeared convinced of Suarez’s guilt, with Alex Ferguson declaring Suarez disgrace to Liverpool Football Club and suggesting he should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again.
Even before the match began, police attempted to seize all copies of the Man U fanzine ‘Red Issue’, declaring the image shown above to be “potentially offensive” and threatening to take “appropriate action against anyone either found selling this particular fanzine or provocatively displaying the image in public.”
That relatively trivial incidents are distorted out of all proportion by the mainstream media, which generally continues to ignore the systemic racism which marginalises whole communities, is leading to a distorted debate. Over zealous policing and censorship of the debate is likely to do little to bring about equality. As John Barnes put it:
We’re making a mountain out of a molehill. We are not the custodians of moral value in the world, we think we are but we’re not. There’s worse things happening in the world, worse things happening in the country, everything should not be laid at footballers’ doors.”
In Gaza, a football match was used to highlight one of those under-reported worse things happening in the world. Last week, Palestinians and internationals defiantly staged a match in the loosely defined Israeli buffer zone which is enforced with a deadly shoot to kill policy, robbing the already besieged Gazans of 30% of their arable land. Taking place during the weekly protests against the buffer zone, the match was in honour of Vittorio Arrigoni, an international activist, who died in April 2011 after being taken hostage by a group of Palestinian dissidents, and Mustafa Tamimi, a Palestinian activist who died last year after being shot in the face with a tear gas cannister.
The furore over the handshake snub forced Liverpool and Suarez to issue an apology today. Yet somehow it seems unlikely that the media will turn its attention to the ongoing siege of Gaza , and help create a furore that stops the deadly racism that blights the lives of Gazans every day.