05:45 - Source: CNN
Soccer player behavior in the spotlight

Story highlights

Liverpool officials and players rally around Luis Suarez after his punishment for racist abuse

But an anti-racism campaigner says the club should be trying to educate the player instead

Paul Mortimer, also a former player, says Suarez needs to learn cultural understanding

Journalist Matthew Syed tells CNN that Uruguayan had no excuse for pleading ignorance

CNN  — 

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez “needs education” after continuing to protest his innocence despite being punished for racial abuse, according to a former English player.

Suarez was banned for eight games and fined $63,000 on Tuesday, pending an appeal, for comments made to Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during a match in October.

His club issued a lengthy statement on his behalf after the ruling, as did his teammates before Wednesday’s match against Wigan, and his lawyer held a press conference in Uruguay.

Manager Kenny Dalglish backed the 24-year-old on Twitter, and also wore a t-shirt depicting the Uruguay international as he continued the defense in his pre-game interview.

“Clubs will defend their players, they are their assets – they will defend their players to the hilt,” said Paul Mortimer, a former England under-21 international who played for Charlton and Aston Villa but now works with the Show Racism The Red Card campaign.

Footballers are TV stars, and should act like it

“The most important thing now, after the punishment, is education. He has highlighted when talking about the cultural differences that he needs some education, he needs to be able to understand that when you come to another country you have to respect the laws and the rules.

“When I go abroad and my children come with me, you educate them on what is the norm in that environment. It’s folly to say that he didn’t know that – he’s an international footballer, he played at the World Cup in South Africa. You can’t tell me that he didn’t understand what was required in this country.”

Suarez reportedly called Senegal-born France international Evra “negrito” – a Spanish term meaning “black” which can be endearing when used with friends, but otherwise is considered offensive.

British journalist Matthew Syed said Suarez, who played for Dutch club Ajax from 2007 to the start of this year, had no excuse for pleading ignorance about the potential offense such a word could have in the UK.

“I find this defense breathtakingly implausible from Suarez. He’s lived in Europe for four years – the idea that he didn’t know that this particular terminology would be deeply offensive to someone like Patrice Evra is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion,” Syed told CNN.

“I don’t think it’s an adequate defense anywhere in a multicultural society, in a cosmopolitan environment like football, to say that ‘This sort of racist terminology is okay where I come from, so you have to put up with it.’

“You have to obey the law and conventions of the place you are living in.”

England soccer captain Terry charged with racism

FIFA president Sepp Blatter caused anger when he told CNN last month that there is no problem with on-pitch racism in football, but Mortimer insists that is not the case.

“I think there is an issue, this proves there is an issue,” the 43-year-old told CNN. “There are more players that have suffered from racist abuse but never really spoken out about it.

“I myself suffered from it when I was playing. But you find it’s difficult to speak out about it, because the highlight is then put on the victim.

“One question I was always asked was, ‘Are you really sure?’ Am I really sure that someone is racially abusing me? I think I am. What is black and white becomes gray, because you get questioned.

“Throughout this situation the most important thing is, ‘What was said? Was it said?’ If it was then it is something we have to deal with – investigate, and punish if punishment is necessary.”

Liverpool’s Suarez fined, suspended over racist remarks

Syed, a former table tennis international who now writes for The Times, said racism in English football is not as much of a problem as it once was.

“In the 1970s and ’80s, football was a place where far-right political groups would stalk the terraces for people to sign up for their hateful ideology,” he said.

“Black players were booed, monkey chants were issued towards them, banana skins were thrown on the pitch. It’s a lot better now than it was then, no question about that.

“I’m rather encouraged by the fact that a lot of top players have come out and instead of condoning and being apologetic for what (Chelsea captain) John Terry and Suarez are alleged to have said, they’ve come out with quite a zero-tolerance approach.”

England skipper Terry is facing criminal charges over alleged racial abuse of Queens Park Rangers player Anton Ferdinand, with a possible maximum fine of £2,500. He could face further action from the English Football Association depending on the outcome of his February 1 court case.

Suarez’s punishment, the first of its kind in England, paled in comparison to several previous high-profile FA disciplinary rulings.

Former England captain Rio Ferdinand was banned eight months in 2004 for missing a drugs test, Eric Cantona was sidelined for the same period in 1995 for karate kicking a fan, and in 1998 Paolo Di Canio was suspended 11 matches for pushing a referee.

“There’s not much of a precedent, it’s a bit like plucking a number out of the air,” Syed said. “But even if this isn’t as severe as those cases, it is nevertheless a significant deterrent. Liverpool are going to miss Suarez, no doubt about that.

“It’s also a partisan case. It’s not just the clubs that are divided on this moral issue – Chelsea backing Terry, and Liverpool with Suarez– it’s also the fans of both clubs. There is an issue for football, the partisanship trumps the bigger moral questions that are the most important ones.”