In the immediate aftermath of Luis Suarez being branded as guilty last month, the Media and even the PFA were quick to criticise strongly any public defence of the player by both his club and its support.
Within minutes of the lengthy and detailed report being released publicly, the media pounced to cast damning judgement on the player.
When soon after, the club released a statement detailing their objections to the methods employed by the judging panel, large sections of the media ignored the intricacies of the case and tore into the club, condemning its reasoned criticisms and real concerns as arrogant and departed from reality.
Any arguments against the witch hunt, or dissection of the FA case, were met by feverish responses, aggressive derision, declarations of disgrace and even predictions of decline and untimely doom from various washed up and wheeled out pundits and hangers on.
In reality, the issue was never about the charge. The actions of the club that stood firm by the man they felt a duty of loyalty to, were never detrimental to the fight against racial intolerance and bigotry in the sport. Liverpool supporters merely analysed all the available information and concluded that the judgement was faulty, that is was without basis in established fact, without evidence that supported the original complaint
For Luis Suarez - a man who actively promotes an approach to football that prioritises equality and tolerance, derision for accepting the backing of his team mates must have been bewildering. He seemed to face it with a dignified, if astonished resignation, but there must have been times when that gave way to despair, as his reputation was torn to pieces by a whipped up public that are largely reliant on a gutter-based tabloid press, and predominantly revenue driven phone-in-and-rant radio and TV based media.
Within the club and within the player, there must have been an overwhelming feeling of injustice and an agonising realisation that there had occurred a massive failure of fair process.
Racism exists in Britain and in British football, but the Luis Suarez case and the aftermath of it in the press wasn't about that. This was always about an inability and an unwillingness on the part of the FA, to enforce discipline within the game by fair means. It was about the structure in place being one that the FA used to pass judgement without fear of reprisal by, or accountability to, the people they exist to serve. A mechanism evolved and operated without thought for the pursuit of establishing, developing and conserving the backbone of a game in this country, that should be sport in the truest sense of the word.
As it is, in a fog of political agendas, somewhere along the line, the FA has lost sight of the importance of being a fair and open governing body. In the fug of a politically motivated determination to appear to be acting in the best interests of political correctness, it's forgotten what sport is, and discarded the values, based on independent judgement, that allow sport to exist.
It was against this backdrop of hostility, that we decided to question the way in which the Luis Suarez verdict was reached. This blog is full of the arguments against the hearing and it's chock-a-block with examples of the holes in the methods of the FA, just in case you've been living under a rock for several weeks and need to have a read, but it's all pretty much summed up anyway, in the email we sent to the FA.
Email to the FA <------ Link
We found that the FA had such faith in the structure of its systems for governance, that it sent a detailed response back.
The FA Response <--------- Link
Undeterred and determined to try to get a response that in some way attempted to address the points we'd made in the email, we then decided to turn to the government Department for Culture, Media and Sport. You may already know that this department have been actively seeking for some time, via the CMS select committee, to encourage dramatic changes in the structure of the FA and its board, and that they've set a deadline in February of this year for the organisation to come to terms with, and address practically those needs for change.
In their reply however, dated 20th January 2012, they went a step further.
Ministerial Support Unit
2-4 Cockspur Street
London SW1Y 5DH
Tel 0207 *** ****
Mr ****** ********
** ******** **
Dear Mr ******,
Thank you for your email to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport enclosing correspondence from the FA regarding the on-going governance reform process. I am replying on behalf of the Department.
The Department is pleased with the responses it has received from members of the House, the media, and the wider public at large at the Government’s response to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee football governance Inquiry. The Department recognise there are issues and related concerns over the FA’s dual role in handling disciplinary matters. In our response to the Select Committee report into football governance we recommended significant reform of the FA’s Board and Council; the introduction of a club licensing system where financial sustainability and robust checks on club owners and directors is included, and for greater supporter representation at football clubs. We have also recommended that the FA considers a review of the disciplinary process that currently operates within football.
At the moment the policy-making, charging and decision-making all sit with the FA. However, we believe there is a good case for this to be modernised with the FA continuing to set the rules and regulation in consultation with all those with an interest, but the charging and decision-making process handled outside of the FA, by an accountable, but independent and separate organisation. We believe this would provide more clarity and enable the football authorities to address disciplinary matters fairly.
The authorities have until the end of February to inform the public about their proposals to make these improvements that will benefit the long-term interests of grassroots football, professional clubs and the national team.
The Department continue to meet with the football authorities to hear what progress they are making. It is our belief that it is for the football authorities to determine the best way of achieving the right changes, but Government will be a key partner in those discussions.
Thank you once again for taking the time to write to the Department.
Ministerial Support Unit
In stating clearly that they consider the current system for disciplinary action against players to be unsuitable and unfair, the DCMS have confirmed what a lot of football supporters suspected all along about the suspiciously timed FA report, which was released late on New Year's Eve of last year.
.......but the charging and decision-making process handled outside of the FA, by an accountable, but independent and separate organisation. We believe this would provide more clarity and enable the football authorities to address disciplinary matters fairly.
In clearly qualifying that their belief in a need for change in the FA disciplinary process, is based on a requirement for a new, fair method, the DCMS have well and truly set out their stall.
Let's be clear here; the letter doesn't speak of a fairer process - it speaks of the requirement for a new, fair one.
When you start to appreciate the view of the DCMS, in terms of what it indicates with regard to the system currently in place at the FA for carrying out disciplinary hearings, then everything changes with regard to there being any justification available to those that overlooked the evidence.
The absence of any navigable avenue of recourse that was capable of overturning a verdict or challenging the findings of that inadequate and unfair report, and the resulting decision by the football club to waive the right to an appeal, which instead could only offer a change in the duration of the already imposed ban, further reinforces the DCMS's concerns over the unfit for purpose systems in place at the FA. The nature of a system condemned in the wake of a government select committee, certainly explains why the club may have felt that there was a greater likelihood that the term would be increased, than decreased if an appeal was pursued.
For a club that have been branded as arrogant and inappropriate by an over zealous media, the unmistakable view of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will feel a lot like redemption.
If the case were to be heard in front of a committee assembled under the recommendations of the forthcoming reforms, how many reasonable people could say with even the smallest amount of confidence, that on the basis of the 'evidence' detailed in the New Year's Eve report, the verdict would have been guilty?
The most important question that the media and the PFA failed to ask is; was the player given a fair hearing, when the conflicting interests and agendas of the FA were an influencing factor in the disciplinary process?
Because if the answer to that is No, then there is no way that the verdict can be just, or as the DCMS have put it - fair. And it's no wonder therefore that the Government department concerned with sport and the overseeing of the regulation of domestic football have stated so clearly that the systems that are currently in place, require replacing with a system that is fair.
No surprise either, that with the consequences of such ineptitude so apparent in the wake of the Suarez case, they've been active in forcing the FA to adhere to a finite schedule, in an effort to get the changes made as soon as is possible.
If the opinions of football supporters are not enough for a national media, which shows headlong determination to disregard the good reputations of great institutions in pursuit of that next, sensational titbit, then maybe they'll take note whilst confirmation is issued by parliamentary process and authority - declared by the highest house in the land.
Supporters are angry because they were ignored on the basis of scant, ill founded claims.
Supporters are dissatisfied because good progress has been impeded by an inadequate and unfair system for the regulation of domestic football.
That's a feeling that in the DCMS, has been echoed by the weightiest of assessors.
And it's a position on fairness that has today been reiterated by the Government body responsible for FA reform.