Suarez incident legal postscript: apology constitutes second bite of the cherry

United Kingdom

This article was produced by Nabarro LLP, which joined CMS on 1 May 2017.

On the evening of 30 June 2014 (nearly a week after the incident and having been found guilty of a deliberate bite on Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini) Suarez issued the following apology:

"The truth is that my colleague Giorgio Chiellini suffered the physical result of a bite in the collision he suffered with me. I deeply regret what occurred. I apologise to Giorgio Chiellini and the entire football family. I vow to the public that there will never again be another incident like this."

This development represents a u-turn for the Suarez camp. As noted in our earlier article, Suarez would have been best served by taking this course a week ago. As it is, the apology at this stage gives no strong legal grounds for reducing his punishment on appeal. It is equivalent to someone in a casino placing all their chips on the number 1 and then, when that bet does not come in, seeking to re-place the bet but only on either red or black.

Suarez and his team ran the “all or nothing” defence of claiming the incident was an accident. If this defence was successful the prize would have been freedom to play against Columbia and no ban at all. However, it was not successful and the FIFA panel were entitled to hand down a punishment against the facts existing at the time – including Suarez’s failure to admit his guilt.

The belated apology is, of course, the only option open to Suarez in an attempt to plead for some leniency on appeal and in that sense it can do him no harm. However, legally, the FIFA Appeal Committee would be fully entitled to confirm the original punishment and it seems the only reason it will be reduced on appeal is if FIFA decides, politically, that a slightly reduced sanction will be likely to draw a line under this matter and prevent a further appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.