Handshakegate

Inevitably, this is what the tabloid press will begin to call the Luis Suarez not shaking Patrice Evra’s hand incident, so I thought I’d get my own claim in early.

Yesterday’s Manchester United v Liverpool match brought to a head months of several well-respected people and organisations making an absolute mess of an incredibly important issue. Even since yesterday a number of further cretins have emerged from the woodwork (see @StanCollymore on Twitter for some frankly disgusting examples).

I’m perhaps going to take a different tack here than most. I think part of the ignorance and part of the complete lack of acceptance of Suarez’s guilt, not only by fans but by some high-profile figures in the game, has come from (and hindsight is a wonderful thing in this case) the way the FA decided against Suarez and communicated that decision.

The case against Suarez was decided by the FA’s Independent Regulatory Commission on the civil standard of proof which is known as “the balance of probabilities.” As many will know, the criminal standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” So basically, in a civil case if the facts are 51% in favour of one decision and 49% in favour of the other, the judge will favour the party with 51%.  For criminal cases, the jury has to, for the sake of argument, be 85% sure that the accused was guilty of the crime (this is a gross simplification but it’ll do for the purposes of talking about football).

To get to my point then, I think the FA has done itself a disservice by not explaining the way the Panel has done its job. The use of the civil standard of proof (and the lack of explanation about it) has created a false myth that Suarez is innocent because he wasn’t tried to criminal standards. Had the FA come out before the hearing against Suarez and explained that the civil standard of proof is used in everyday life to decide on, say, personal injuries claims amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds in some instances, and is a perfectly acceptable way to attach  blame and therefore wrongdoing to Suarez, then some of this stooshie would have been avoided.

For one reason or another, most people’s understanding of the law is limited to the criminal courts, where the higher standard of proof is used. I can’t help but wonder, despite my professional defence of the use of the balance of probabilities above, that if the FA had deployed the higher standard of proof that this would be a much less noisy affair.

The use of balance of probabilities allowed Liverpool to release that abhorrent press statement that “Suarez was found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone” (which in itself is wrong, but I digress), and then to perpetuate the myth of innocence since. People understand how the criminal courts work (even if that understanding is based on watching court dramas on the telly) and therefore understand the standards required in a criminal case to attach guilt. If beyond reasonable doubt had been used in the first place, I wonder if this whole sorry affair and its sorrier aftermath could have been avoided. People who didn’t know any better wouldn’t be able to stick up for Suarez, and wouldn’t be able to call the whole process into doubt. But then, as I say, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Notwithstanding the procedural difficulties, what I cannot get over is the continuing refusal of Liverpool FC to accept that something wrong has happened here. The t-shirts; the continuing defence of Suarez by Kenny Dalglish in every medium possible; the booing of Patrice Evra (how dare he hear racism); the messages on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and every other online trolling forum social network posted by cretins who seem to have put blind support for their club above support for decent values in society.

What is needed, then, is:

1. A full and frank apology from both Suarez and Liverpool FC to draw a line under this whole thing;

2. Included in this apology, a retraction of the previous stances taken by Liverpool FC throughout this sorry affair; and

3. Some kind of wonderfully staged PR thing where Suarez and Evra actually do shake hands.

I doubt any of this will ever happen, however. Yesterday’s game did however bring one thing rather ironically to a head (thanks to a retweet on Sid Lowe’s Twitter account for this); in this case, perhaps solving the problems of racism actually would have been helped with a handshake (Sepp).

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