Update: FIFA has suspended Luis Suarez for nine matches and banned him from any football-related activity for four months.
This is how a sports biting scandal works. It begins, as it did when Uruguayan soccer star Luis Suarez allegedly bit Italian Giorgio Chiellini, with disbelief. Then comes the introspection phase as analysts try to contextualize the errant chomp. Finally, the scandal reaches, as it did on Wednesday in the Suarez case, the blame-the-media phase.
Uruguayan soccer officials claim the picture of Giorgio Chiellini clutching his tooth-marked shoulder was, in fact, altered to make the bite marks look worse than they actually were. “The accusations against Suarez are unfounded, and we will prove it,” Alejandro Balbi, the secretary general of the Association of Uruguayan Football, told Sport Witness.
“If every player starts showing the injuries he suffers and they open inquiries for them, everything will be way too complicated in the future,” Balbi added in an interview with Uruguayan radio. “We’re going to use all arguments possible.”
Conspirators prowl the periphery, he said. “You shouldn’t forget that we’re rivals of many…. This does not go against what might have happened, but there’s no doubt that Suarez is a stone in the shoe for many.”
Best photoshop i’ve seen yet of suarez pic.twitter.com/4XtBRqnhQV
— Craig Negus (@Valentines_Kiss) June 25, 2014
Uruguayan journalists, soccer officials and players took aim at a country they say is behind L’affaire de Bite: England. They say the English have long held a grudge against Suarez, and the fact he scored two decisive goals against England in its recent loss to Uruguay doesn’t help either.
“In the TV replay, as viewed in the press area, it appears that Luisito’s face comes in contact with Chiellini without it being clear whether he bites him as was claimed by those — especially the English — who were keen to play down Uruguay’s victory,” one Uruguayan television station charged. “British reporters, in the press conference, asked [Uruguayan coach] Óscar Tabárez three times about the incident, saying that, ‘Suárez bit Chiellini.’ … It would be good if these Englishmen remember how they won the World Cup in 1966 with a ball which was not a goal.” Oh, snap.
In fairness, there is room to argue that British tabloids have been a tad hyperbolic about the whole thing. “Ban this monster,” the Daily Telegraph screamed in its sports section. The Daily Mail trumpeted its report, “Make Biter Suarez A Pariah.” The Daily Express called the incident “Jaws 3.” Such headlines led Uruguayan captain Diego Lugano to speak out against the alleged British agenda. He said, according to the Guardian, that the pictures “don’t show anything” and that they were “nothing important. … Everybody knows the British media have an issue with Suarez. It must sell newspapers in England. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. … I don’t know what a British journalist is doing talking about Suárez. It must be popular with the British media. I don’t see another explanation.”
But some in the Uruguayan press did have one: subterfuge. In a time when North Korea can insert missiles into a picture, what’s to stop someone from accentuating a few bite marks? “There was no single picture to prove there was a bite,” El Observador said, calling it a “manhunt.” “Two images were circulating: one of Chiellini with his shirt up for the referee appeared to show he had been visited by a vampire, but in the other nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Was it Photoshop?”
The FIFA disciplinary committee has until Saturday to decide whether the Uruguayan claims have merit. If found guilty of the biting charges, Suarez faces a suspension lasting from two games to two years.
“There is a possibility that they ban him, because there are precedents,” Balbi said. “But we are convinced that it was an absolutely casual play, because if Chiellini can show a scratch on one shoulder, Suárez can show a bruised and an almost closed eye.”