To vote for Suarez is to declare goals more important than racism
For the rare neutral who is not in thrall to Liverpool’s sense of their own moral superiority and destiny, Manchester City and Manchester United fans, it might have had an element of schadenfreude. Liverpool had let it slip. They weren’t going to go again. It would be wrong to do that, because there are more important ideas surrounding Liverpool at the moment. For once, it’s not entirely their fault, but that of the media.
On Monday, Suarez won the Football Writers’ Association award for the 2014 Footballer of the Year. Some people are of the opinion that anyone who is prepared to vote for an unapologetic racist is perhaps morally questionable. There are though two ways of looking at the footballer of the year, neither of which are necessarily wrong, but the choices might reflect wider attitudes of thinking.
The first argument is that Luis Suarez is plainly deserving of the award. If you take the reasoning for the awarding of the prize as the definition of ‘precept and example’ as the best person at football in the season, then by precept and example, you can make a case that Suarez has no real rival. If you choose to believe that Footballer of the Year means the best player of football in the year, then that’s fair enough and correct. Yaya Toure has made a late run for the award, but with him failing to drag his team to victories, and with his team failing to impress despite the billions of pounds spent on them, it is still an underwhelming year for both Toure and City. To spend that amount of money, coming up against a strikerless Chelsea, an imbalanced Liverpool and absent Manchester United and still only be winning the league in the last two games of the season is a failure of competence, if not a failure in the league.
Suarez, however, has been inspirational for Liverpool. No other player in the league brings out such visceral affection and support from fans as Suarez. Liverpool, like most other clubs, will believe that the odds are stacked against them and they are victims of dark machinations, and they see that more than ever in the case between Patrice Evra and Suarez. That, without getting into details, they support Suarez even more fervently despite this, shows the depth of feeling of persecution and also affection. Despite Suarez flirting with an exit last summer, he has redeemed himself in the eyes of his club and his fans. The sheer number of goals, committed displays and encouraging words once the season was under way has done enough for them. Suarez has been, with Daniel Sturridge, one of the biggest reasons after Brendan Rodgers for Liverpool’s success. If, as above, best at football equals best footballer, then Suarez deserves it.
There’s another argument. A footballer is, until technological advances allows, a human. The humanity of football, sport and the world can’t be ignored, and a vote for Suarez does that. As Daniel Harris said in the Spectator, racism is the greatest blight on the world today, responsible for colonialist advantages that still affects people of colour within most Western countries, and also for those countries which were previously the West world’s colonies. This is a damage done to the world borne of racism - the belief white people were and are deserving of more than others. As said above, for most voting journalists and for Liverpool, Suarez’s goals have redeemed him for his attempts to leave and his biting of Branislav Ivanovic, for which he apologised. Most Liverpool fans, at least the vocal ones, appear to believe that the charge of racism against Suarez is either a spent conviction - he served his ban - or simply a conspiracy against him. There is no redemption against a false allegation, they believe.
For the rest of us, armed with facts and a moral compass, it’s not really good enough. This year Suarez, having previously admitted racially abusing Evra, claimed the case against him was ‘false’, in the least convincing claim of innocence until the Max Clifford case. The FA board did not believe his account at the time, and there is even less reason to believe him now. Going back a little, Suarez apologised to everyone but the man he abused. The case led to (and this is just what I have seen directed at me and other colleagues on Twitter) hundreds of Liverpool fans being explicitly racist, and the club itself reacting in such a way as to draw comparisons with the definition of the Metropolitan police as institutionally racist.
Football is not played in a vacuum. Those who sympathise with the Stand Against Modern Football will probably believe that football clubs should reflect and serve their communities. That does not mean that foreign fans are not welcome - they absolutely are - but a club’s home should take precedence, and most fans’ community includes people of colour. Most reasonable people believe that part of a club’s corporate responsibility is to act against racism, and most journalists who voted for Suarez, when questioned, will not believe that they are racist.
Why, then, do they want to tie up the redemption story to excuse Suarez’s racism, and the racism that flourished as a result? Suarez bit Ivanovic and apologised - that is in the past and he should be excused it. Suarez has scored goals and acted as if newly committed to Liverpool, and that has redeemed his previous determination to leave. To write that he has redeemed himself in any other general sense, when he still owes an apology to the man he racially abused, is to gloss over an outstanding charge of racism. To vote for Luis Suarez is to vote for the man who has played the best football this year. To vote for Luis Suarez is to declare goals more important than racism and to traduce football itself. It is as simple as that.
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