Luis Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini. Luis Suarez was banned for biting Giorgio Chiellini. That he was banned for it is not especially surprising, and, sadly, neither is that he bit him given Suarez had done similar twice before in his career. What is surprising is that FIFA have now handed down a punishment for an incident committed while the player was on international duty that hurts his club more than it hurts his country.
Suarez will miss nine Uruguay matches, but he will also be barred from training with Liverpool, participating in pre-season, or playing in nine Premier League matches, any early round League Cup ties, and three Champions League matches. No matter whether one thinks it a suitable punishment for the player, it sets a new precedent in player punishment for FIFA—one that puts them at odds with every club in the world.
When Luis Suarez bit Branislav Ivanovic, he was banned by the English FA. And he still participated in matches for Uruguay, with FIFA remaining unconcerned by his club-level punishment. This is how bans at the club level have always worked in the past, and, until now, the reverse was how bans worked at the international level. Now, it's different, and even if Suarez' case was an unusual one, it sets a precedent.
For clubs who pay players' wages and are already loathe to see them head off to represent their countries for fear they could pick up an injury that keeps them out of action for league and cup matches, it's a kind of terrifying precedent. It says that now they don't only have to worry about a player picking up an injury, they also have to worry that he will do something for his country that gets him banned at the club level.
As the sport's top governing body, FIFA do theoretically have the power to ban a player from football, full stop. Now they've shown they're willing to use it, and Chelsea will be worried about what happens if a player of theirs spits on an opponent while on international duty. Juventus will be worried about what happens if one of theirs breaks an opponent's leg. Real Madrid will be worried about what happens if one of theirs hurls a racial slur.
FIFA are, above all, a political body motivated by self-interest and the desire to make as much money as possible. As a result, they've reacted strongly and quickly here to protect their brand. Yet in doing so, they've also set a new precedent for player punishment that, at least behind the scenes, every club on the planet will have been taken aback by.
In the short term, the Suarez ban protects FIFA's image in the eyes of many observers, especially the casual fans who only pay attention every four years. In the longer term, they may have set themselves even further at odds with the interests of the clubs that pay the players' wages—and that has the potential to get ugly when it comes to issues of releasing players for international duty.
Behind the scenes, it might even spur renewed talk by some of Europe's biggest clubs of banding together to form a superleague that disentangles them from the at times meddlesome governance of FIFA and their subjugate confederations and federations. FIFA may have scored a short term publicity victory; in the longer term, they've set a dangerous new precedent that could cause them a great deal of trouble.
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