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The Court of Arbitration for Sport Just Upheld Luis Suarez's Match Ban: What You Need To Know

The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled today to uphold FIFA's decision to ban Luis Suarez for four months (and nine international games) for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup. Here's what you need to know about the CAS, the FIFA appeals process, and the winners and losers of the whole affair.

David Ramos

Wait, what just happened?

After Luis Suarez--then of Liverpool--bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder during Uruguay's group-clinching win against Italy in the World Cup, FIFA banned the repeat offender from nine international matches and four months of all club-related football activities. The ban included playing in any competitive or friendly matches, and training with his teammates, both on an international and club level.

When FC Barcelona purchased Suarez's contract from Liverpool, the Catalan club--in conjunction with Suarez's own lawyers--initiated an appeal of the sanction. On appeal, FIFA refused to reduce (or even modify) the punishment, so Barcelona and Suarez brought the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) where we find it now.

Today, the CAS upheld the match ban, but modified the components of the sanction to allow Suarez to train with Barcelona.

What is the CAS and why does it have jurisdiction over this matter?

The CAS is a neutral legal body, originally established by the International Olympic Committee in 1984. While it does not have original jurisdiction over any international sporting organization, many have elected to grant the CAS appellate jurisdiction. FIFA grants appellate jurisdiction to the CAS in Articles 66 and 67 of the FIFA statutes (incidentally, FIFA punished Suarez under Article 65(2)(f)).

Can CAS decisions be appealed?

Yes. CAS decisions can be appealed to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, a Swiss legal body. This is not an uncommon procedure--in the United States, many arbitration courts grant appellate jurisdiction to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

However, CAS decisions--which have mainly focused on doping decisions--are rarely appealed, and almost never overturned. The Swiss Federal Tribunal will only overturn a CAS decision if, in the estimation of the SFT, the decision is "incompatible with public policy." Further reading: The Metuzalem Case and the public policy exception.

So, how should I feel about this?

That depends entirely on how you feel about Suarez, the original punishment, and FIFA more generally. I'll do my best to present the arguments on both sides, though I tend to fall on the side of supporting harsh penalties for repeat violent offenders in sports. (Again, this says nothing of my views on legal policy outside of sports).

Why the decision might be correct:

Proponents of the CAS decision--and the original FIFA ban--argue that, as international governing bodies, they have a duty to the fans to preserve the integrity of the sport, and to protect their players on the pitch. By handing down tough punishments to players who, for the third time, violently attack other players, they accomplish both goals.

Obviously, this line of argumentation falls laughably flat when one considers FIFA's atrocious record of (not) punishing players for being actively racist (seeLuis Suarez racial abuse incident), and their general "ah well, f**k you we only care about money" attitude towards any problems in the game. The spectacle of watching FIFA trying to play morality police is like watching an alcoholic, abusive garbage collector try to crash a town hall meeting--yes, he has a right to be there (and it's probably laudable that he cares enough to show up), but ultimately it's going to be hard to take him seriously, and everyone will smell a little worse after.

My instinct with this decision is that it was probably upheld for two related reasons: first, it would be incredibly unfair to Liverpool, who sold him at a price that factored in the sanction, to simply remove it (i.e. it would be a distortion of the transfer market), and secondly, it would make FIFA look even more corrupt if the team at the center of their latest round of corruption scandals turned around and convinced them to reduce the sanction on their star signing.

Is this fair? Like I said, that depends on how you viewed the original sanction.

Why the decision might not be correct:

I detest FIFA to the extent that I assume that everything they do is wrong. (My first reaction).

Actually, though, where on earth does FIFA get off, telling a player with mental health issues that he can't play or train for months while not sanctioning players (and clubs) that actively racially abuse other players. Isn't FIFA just telling us that biting someone is waaaay worse than racially abusing that same player? How can we possibly trust FIFA when they let players and clubs get away with some of the things we've seen?

Additionally, this decision seems to fly in the face of some precedent--we have rarely seen players receive match bans this aggressive, even when those players intended to cause quite a bit more damage than a bite on the neck. (However: FIFA is not bound by precedent when handing down disciplinary decisions--i.e. no stare decisis--so arguing about precedent may miss the point entirely).

So, is this fair? Like I said...it really depends on how you feel about Suarez (and FIFA).

So, who wins?

Provisionally, I want to say FIFA wins. That is, the CAS essentially upheld all the important aspects of the ban while overturning the most excessive measure. Public opinion seems pretty solidly in favor of the ruling, and FIFA could really use some good press.

Other than that, Barcelona will feel good about the result, as the Catalan club will be able to work Suarez into a training routine. They would have liked to see the ban reduced to allow Suarez to play a few matches before coming up against Real Madrid in the first Clásico, but they will have to settle for this.

And who lost?

The obvious answer is that Suarez lost. Most commentators expected the length of the ban to be reduced when it was revealed that he and Barcelona were appealing--the result he was pushing for--and it didn't happen (to my shock). Sure, he'll get to train--but he won't be able to debut until October 26th (against Madrid).

I think we can group Liverpool into the losing group. They sold Suarez to Barcelona at a price that incorporated the entirety of the transfer ban (at least we have to assume so), and they could reasonably be aggravated that they didn't get slightly more from the transfer now. Again, this might be reaching, but if I were a Liverpool fan I would feel cheated that the fee wasn't (even slightly) higher.

So how should rational madridistas react?

Really, with indifference. This ruling--like many solid legal decisions--will likely leave neither side entirely happy. FIFA defenders--those exist?--will come away contented, but everyone else should be able to find some fault here.

But what about irrational madridistas?

Well, there's always this:

Luis-suarez-biting-meme2_medium

Saurez-sports-grid-bite_medium

Update, 12:09: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the ban would include Barcelona's October 26th match against Real Madrid. The ban is actually set to end the day before the Clásico.

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