I have been troubled throughout the entire period of the Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra, racism row.
I have felt unsure about what exactly was troubling me the most; aside from the natural discomfort one would expect when someone you feel a loyalty to has been accused of racism – and have only today come to the conclusion that the unsettling feeling was primarily due to the way we appear to have handled the situation; how we appear to have let both Suarez and Evra down.
When I say we, I mean us – Liverpool Football Club; The FA; FIFA; the media and anyone else who could have and should have ensured that the events of the past few weeks did not play out in the fashion that they have.
For those of you who do not have even a cursory understanding of the subject matter at hand, allow me to provide the briefest of overviews:
During a game of professional football a confrontation occurred between Suarez and Evra – the details of which will never, ever, truly be known; not even by Suarez or Evra – as memory and perception do not always square with reality and fact, and the accusation made was one based on nothing more than one persons word against another.
Subsequent to the confrontation Evra made an accusation that he had been racially abused by Suarez. Now, it is important to understand that, to me, the term ‘game’ in this context should be interpreted as ‘at work’.
It is from this point of view that I consider the duty of care that could have, and perhaps should have, been extended to both Evra and Suarez has been nothing but a complete and utter failing on the part of professional football (my opinion).
The ‘story’ has made for sensational back-page headlines for the tabloid press. The characters of both Evra and Suarez have been subject to intense scrutiny and the reputation of both players, Liverpool Football Club and football in general have come under microscopic examination.
This episode has demonstrated, yet again, how the world of football is light years away from the world in which each and every one of us lives and works in.
Consider what might have happened if any one of us had been accused of racial harassment in the work-place; how many of us would have found ourselves suspended, on full pay, without any inference of guilt, whilst an investigation took place to determine if there were any grounds for disciplinary proceedings.
Consider why we might have been suspended; to protect us from ourselves; to protect the business from any further harm; to ensure an investigation could take place without prejudice or discomfort for the accused whilst it took place – to ensure the business had a good grasp of the facts behind the allegation before making any decisions.
Consider that we would most likely have been informed, for our own good, not to make any comments about the subject to anyone; not to contact a fellow colleague even – as it might contaminate the investigation. We most likely would have been advised that the accusation was one of significant gravity as to constitute gross mis-conduct – so that we had a clear understanding of how serious the matter was and why it was important that we investigate the matter thoroughly.
As unpleasant as that might have been, it would have been done for our own good, for the good of the alleged ‘victim’ and to ensure a duty of care was applied to all concerned, including the business.
Protecting the player (employee) was absolutely the right thing to do. The manner in which we protected him, in my opinion, perhaps was not.
Then again, my opinion is only based upon what I have read and that does not necessarily mean I have any idea about what was or was not actually done.
Football continues to conduct its business as though it were just a sport. It seems to have overlooked the fact it became a business a long time ago.
A business with as many employees as Liverpool Football Club, with a Brand as globally prominent as Liverpool Football Club, would have a clear code of conduct, a set process of how to manage an allegation of gross mis-conduct and a Human Resources Department that would ensure everyone understood their responsibilities and duties in the event a situation such as this occurred.
Our response as a club, whilst admirably adhering to our ethos of leaving no one to walk alone through a storm, could have and perhaps should have taken a lead from how this situation would have been handled in the real world.
I stand by Luis Suarez. I stand by Kenny Dalglish and always will. I stand by all connected to Liverpool Football Club.
However, we should have at least considered the chance that something Suarez said caused offence to Patrice Evra, whether it was intentional or not. We should have approached the allegation impartially, objectively and professionally, not just out of loyalty.
We should have mitigated how much information went out into the public domain and we should have thrown a shroud of confidentiality and security around Suarez until our internal investigation was completed.
Liverpool Football Club was 100% right to stand up for Luis Suarez, but we need to consider the possibility that we could have done a better, more professional job. We could have conducted a forensic investigation and bolstered our defense built upon a solid foundation of facts. We should have been so prepared in our defense that Evra, if he has in fact mislead the FA, would now be serving out a ban for his part.
Our public communications should have been that we take the allegation seriously and are determined to look into the matter further. Nothing else.
As it is, Suarez has been through the public mill, Evra may have escaped punishment for his conduct in the matter and a chance to achieve a different outcome has been lost. We may even have lost an opportunity to mediate a discourse between the two players to the point where any ‘misunderstanding’ was clarified.
We are Liverpool Football Club and we have a duty of care to football. We have a duty to set a higher standard for others to follow. We have a duty to ensure that we, to the absolute best of our ability, take care of our own.