OPINION: It is time to stop pandering to the world’s sporting superstars following biting incidents.
Luis Suarez’ punishment for munching on Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder during a Football World Cup match the other day was palpably inadequate.
The Uruguayan star was suspended for four months, banned for nine international matches and fined £65,000 (NZ$126,000).
Considering Suarez was signed by Liverpool in a £75 million deal last year and earns £160,000 a week, the fine is meaningless.
Suarez insisted he did not bite Chiellini, that in fact the Italian’s shoulder had been forced into his mouth.
Unfortunately for the Uruguayan, history is not on his side.
He missed part of last season because of a 10-match suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic in a Liverpool v Chelsea English Premier League game.
And in 2010, when playing for Ajax, he was suspended for seven games for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal.
Furthermore, photographic evidence has emerged that he tried to bite Chiellini during a Confederations Cup game last year.
Surely football should have a ‘‘three strikes and you’re out’’ system for offences as serious as biting. Because Suarez is a great player, football seems to operate a parallel justice system for him.
The Uruguayan Football Association was apparently fuming at his ejection from the World Cup and he returned home to a hero’s welcome. Never mind the incident occurred off the ball and was entirely unprovoked.
Football’s handling of Suarez does not compare well with other famous biting incidents in sport.
Mike Tyson chewed off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear during their heavyweight boxing title fight in 1997. It took him two attempts. He was warned after the first bite and disqualified the second time.
Tyson was fined US$3 million and banned from boxing for life. Of course, being boxing, he was back in the ring 18 months later.
Springbok prop Johan le Roux had a good chew on All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick’s ear during a test in Wellington in 1994. Le Roux was suspended for 18 months, and was mighty sour about it, too.
‘‘For an 18-month suspension, I feel I should have probably torn it off,’’ he said. ‘‘Then at least I could say, ’Look, I’ve returned to South Africa with the guy’s ear’.’’
British Lion Danny Grewcock was extraordinarily lucky to get away with a two-month suspension for biting Keven Mealamu’s ear during a test against the All Blacks in Christchurch in 2005.
There was virtually no message in that punishment that such behaviour would not be tolerated.
There have been lots of strange biting incidents in sport over the years.
Definitely the weirdest I know of concerned Sevilla striker Francisco Gallardo in 2001.
In a spontaneous on-field celebration during a Spanish league match against Valladolid, Gallardo bit the penis of team-mate Jose Antonio Reyes, who had scored.
Gallardo was suspended by the Royal Spanish Football Federation for violating standards of ‘‘sporting dignity and decorum’’.
The player said he was shocked to be punished for what he termed ‘‘a minor incident, soon forgotten’’.
But back to Suarez.
It is astounding that world football administrators continue to tread so lightly around him. They are sending a poor message and doing neither the player nor the sport any good.
It’s time they got a lot tougher and stopped pandering to superstars.