Appetite for self-destruction

  • Living
  • Saturday, 05 Jul 2014

TO get caught biting somebody once is unfortunate. Twice, careless. Thrice, and in front of a global audience, indicates a short-lived memory of past transgressions.

For footballer Luis Suarez, the punishment was severe. The evidence was clear. Even the McDonald’s of Uruguay sent a message on Twitter in acknowledgment: “Hi, Luis Suarez. If you are still hungry, come take a bite out of a Big Mac.”

Yet it didn’t stop Uruguayans from protesting that Suarez was the focus of a conspiracy. Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguayan coach, resigned from his position on Fifa’s Technical Study Group, saying that Suarez had been made a scapegoat. Meanwhile Uruguayan President Jose Mujica spoke live on radio to say: “We didn’t choose Suarez to be a philosopher, or a mechanic, or to have good manners – he’s a great player”.

Which leads to the question: Would such a fuss have been made if Suarez wasn’t that good a footballer? Should you be forgiven your transgressions if you can score goals for your country or club? I asked a Liverpool fan what his fellow supporters thought of the incident and he answered that fans were split into two camps: That Suarez had brought the club a bad reputation and should be sold for £70mil (RM382.3mil) at the earliest opportunity; or that he was a troubled, talented kid who had taken the club to the Champions League and just needed help and a nurturing environment. (Incidentally, in both points of view, his value as a player overshadows the severity of his crime.)

I think most people would say that just because somebody is popular, it doesn’t mean they should be excused of their crimes. I know Malaysians feel that way because of how people reacted when a Malaysian bowler charged with statutory rape was given a suspended sentence instead of five years in jail by the Court of Appeal.

Yet, rights and wrongs seem to turn a shade of grey when the perpetrator is seen to be “one of us”, especially in politics.

For example, the sex scandal Bill Clinton was involved in should have undermined public trust in him as a politician. However, he managed to avoid impeachment and now is seen by the Democrat Party as a very respected senior member.

Similarly in Malaysia, many politicians find themselves the focus of various imbroglios, but even with the presence of video evidence, their popularity within their respective parties has hardly waned.

It’s a phenomenon known as in-group favouritism. When a person is a member of a group, they will favour their own group over others. Research has shown that even when people are assigned groups randomly (say, by a flip of a coin), within minutes they will see their own groups as superior, and will try to maintain an advantage over other groups – even at the expense of their own.

Many in Uruguay, who know what growing up in the slums of Montevideo feels like, sympathise with Suarez. He was one of seven children in a broken family, but he found some emotional stability when he met his girlfriend as a teenager. At 15, her family had to leave for Spain, and he was so distraught about this, Suarez vowed to become a great footballer so he could move to Europe, too. A month later, in a crucial game, he headbutted a referee who tried to send him off. However, over the years his skill outshone his temperament, and he eventually rejoined his girlfriend, married her and now has a family with two children.

His fans who know this story say Suarez will do anything to succeed, because of how much he loves those who are close to him.

Suarez eventually apologised for his actions, admitting that his opponent “Giorgio Chiellini suffered the physical result of a bite in the collision he suffered with me”, which smells suspiciously of an apology drafted by a committee of lawyers. “I’m sorry you were hurt, but I’m not admitting to doing anything wrong”.

To his credit, Chiellini replied: “It is all forgotten. I hope Fifa will reduce your suspension”.

So, all’s well that ends well, and in one accepted apology, boys have matured into men.

Except that former England striker and current TV pundit Gary Lineker tweeted that “I hear that Barca insisted on apology if transfer is to proceed”. Soon after that, the story broke that Suarez may move to Barcelona FC for up to £80mil (RM437.1mil).

Will the fans there take to Suarez? Presumably so, if he finds an appetite for goals instead of defenders.

The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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