Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Gamesmanship Etc Ruining Tennis

Many are bemoaning the absence of the Davis Cup from UK TV screens. In my view there are many problems that tennis has failed to address. Below are my thoughts over the last year or so.

24th January 2013
Sloane Stephens is creepng back into her semi final against Victoria Azarenka who is quite clearly cracking as she watches match point after match point go begging. The shrieking reaches a near unbearable pitch. 5 match points saved, Stephens is now serving to draw level in the second set. The teenage giant killer remains cool, calm and collected. My money was on Stephens taking this all the way. Cue medical time out. Azarenka 'disappeared' for 10 minutes. The rule says she has 3 minutes of treatment once she reaches the designated area.She was gone 10 minutes and deserved the slow hand clap from the crowd. There was nothing discernibly wrong beforehand nor afterwards. Needless to say Azarenka managed to break serve and take the match.Stephens in forgivably naive fashion had simply sat in her chair for those 10 minutes and lost her focus. The unavoidable conclusion was that this entirely deliberate on the part of Azarenka who found a way to take the heat off herself and break the spell of her opponent. I have never heard a less convincing press conference than Azarenka's after her hollow victory. So I would ban treatment breaks off court altogether. If you cannot play on that's life. Obviously in a long match toilet breaks are required, but should be limited in time subject to practicalities of the environment (stadium facilities etc). Nobody gets an injury time out in marathon - either carry on or default.

Convenient Excuse
Since posting this article I  have learnt via a special friend (USA) that this all starts with the Juniors where bad behaviour is out of control, there is coaching, verbal abuse, every kind of cheating and faked injury time outs. Nothing (or seemingly nothing) is being done to address this scourge so whaqt chance of matters improving with the pros.
In Friday's semi final normally restrained Roger Federer swore at Andy Murray across the net. Federer is beleived to have been irked at his belief that Murray was trying to influence line judges by not playing at balls whilst seemingly awaiting the call of 'out', then playing on when no call came. Murray described it all effectively as 'part of the game'.
 Over a year ago I wrote the passages below. Seemingly nothing has improved and tennis has some real image problems.
Gamesmanship has been a sorry part of tennis (as much as other sports) for as long as sport has stirred the emotions. Bad sportsmanship has equally scarred the game for decades. We now remember quite charitably the 'escapades' of John McEnroe or Ilie Nastase from a bygone era, but what of their opponents? When Mac went nuclear what was the impact upon the game of his adversary? Usually McEnroe rediscovered his edge and his hapless, but well mannered opponent across the net melted away quietly.
Fastforwarding to 2012, matters have not greatly improved. At this year's Australian Open, Marcos Baghdatis destroyed 4 rackets during a public temper tantrum which would have put to shame any self respecting 3 year old. He was fined a derisory £560. Argentinian David Nalbandian poured water over a locker room staff member and was fined £5,000 (back pocket change) for his trouble. Thomas Berdych was so riled by the net aggression of a Spanish opponent that he refused to shake hands at the end of the match. He actually won. Nonetheless the crowd was less forgiving than the score. He was roundly and unanimously booed throughout the subsequent on court interview by the spectators. Tournament organisers please take note.
At Queen's 2 weeks ago, seemingly serial offender Nalbandian, took matters to a whole new level by having a temper tantrum, kicking out at an advertising hoarding and injuring a line judge as  result. Automatic default from the final followed. Nice warm up for Wimbledon.
I have spoken of Serena Williams  before (see archive). She has abused match officials on more than one occasion and received the customary and proverbial slap on the wrist. In fact she is the most censured female tennis player with fines amounting to double the next worst offender. Derisory amounts nonetheless. Administrators seem incapable or simply lack the willpower to grapple with their star attractions.

Cheating is becoming more prevalent.
 Not necessarily, doping, although I know of one Sports Blog devoted entirely to the subject of alleged steroid abuse in tennis (tennishasasteroidproblem.blogspot.com) . The threat of players doping with EPO and HGH (Human Growth Hormone) is increasing. Matches are becoming longer and more physical. The demands on the human body of such intense struggles and the need for rapid recovery suggest that the temptation to dope must be high. Dick Pound (former head of WADA) has now (5/1/13) highlighted the physiques of the top players compared to yesteryear and the weakness of the ITF testing regime which favours urine testing. EPO and HGH are detectable in blood tests. Is this a question of resources? Or lack of desire to uncover the truth. Ugly rumours swirl around tennis and they are given credence by senior figures from the world of anti doping. Andy Murray has now called for greater testing and indicated a willingness for funding to come from reduced prize money. There is a message in there if the authorities are listening!

 I am referring to the practice of medical time outs and toilet breaks, often 'timed' to coincide with a player's difficulties in the relevant match. What better way to test the nerve and resolve of the up and coming player, poised on the verge of a great victory against a better ranked player, than to introduce delay and contemplation time, and to upset the rhythm of the match.' La peur de gagner' is a phenomenon known far beyond the shores of British tennis.
The rigmarole of a toilet break in a crowded Grand Slam facility can introduce considerable delay in to the process. Medical time outs achieve the same end result. A player is entitled to request the 'Sports Medicine Trainer' if he sustains an injury during the course of the match (including the warm up). He cannot, according to the rules do so for a pre -existing injury. The Sports Medicine Trainer may authorise a one-time three minute medical time-out for that condition. Of course the SMTs are under considerable pressure to proceed with caution given their close association with the players and the valuable commodity that they are treating. SMTs can seek guidance from a Tournament Doctor. 
The time-out only begins after the completion of the evaluation and diagnosis of the medical condition by the Sports Medicine Trainer and, should, when possible, be taken on a change-over or set break.
The Sports Medicine Trainer can treat heat related physical conditions if he determines such treatment to be appropriate. However the rules state that a player will be allowed only one medical time-out per match for any and all cramping conditions. 
The opportunities to exploit this process are many. It is a big call to decide that there is no injury. In that unlikely event there are still the attendant delays built in to the process, the summoning of the SMT, his arrival through the throng and the evaluation process.
I could get on to the tactical challenges related to Hawkeye. Players with spare challenges use them for the same ends ie to break up the rhythm of the match which may be going against them, when they know perfectly well that the call was correct.
Then there is 'grunting'. Shrieking during the course of play is extremely unpleasant for spectators, just imagine being across the net and trying to focus on the job in hand. What response from the WTA? 'We are currently in the process of exploring how to reduce excessive grunting, especially for younger players just starting out, without adversely affecting players who have developed their game under the current training, rules and procedures'. In other words, we are not prepared to do anything about the Sharapovas and Azarenkas even if we accept that their conduct is wrong and damaging to the image of tennis. Ladies please refrain!
Then there is the incessant towelling down. If I could make one immediate rule change it would be to outlaw the use of a towel during games. Then we could get back to the tennis and the match that we are paying to watch and that the players are paid handsomely to participate in.
Tennis definitely has an image problem. The power game is rapidly taking away variety and subtlety. The Sunday Times today highlights another form of 'cheating' (it is nbot yet outlawed!). The use of silicone oil on racket strings to enable even more exaggerated spin. The volleyer is being taken out of the process by the speed and power of the modern game. Is this what we really want?
I would like to hark back to a 'golden age'. Returning to my original point, a time when tennis players did not even sit down at changeovers, indeed no chairs were provided! That would sort the men from the boys!
One final point. TV stations have great difficulty with tennis because, although the changeovers lend themselves beautifully to advertising, there is no certainly with regard to the length of matches, and accordingly no certainty with the commencement of subsequent matches. Frequently the best matches are finishing after public transport has packed up for the night and after the average tennis fan has retired to bed.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


The Football World Cup is going to the land which perhaps best embodies the 'Beautiful Game' - Brazil, 5 times winners of the trophy. Surely this is the perfect combination. Brazil last hosted the competition way back in 1950 before they had ever won it. Their combination of fantastic football history and rapidly developing economic prospects made them irresistible to FIFA, the World governing body.
Alas, trouble is brewing (excuse the pun!) FIFA's commercial diktats are clashing with the scruples and public health concerns of the Brazilian authorities. Believe it or not, a game based on health and exercise, has as a major sponsor of its international federation, a beer company, Budweiser. Trouble is since 2003 Brazilian law has banned alcohol from being sold in sports stadiums for perfectly proper and sensible reasons. FIFA insists that Brazil enacts its 'World Cup Law'. This means reversing the alcohol ban, so Budweiser can flog its beers at World Cup Venues (12 stadiums) and also enacting images rights protection laws for FIFA's commercial partners. This issue is now 5 years old, but the Brazilian Parliament has not yet buckled. Supporters of the status quo argue that Brazil never in fact agreed to this precondition in 2007 when they were awarded the World Cup. There is significant resentment about the amount of power ceded to FIFA in return for the tournament.  In particular the Health Minister is insisting that the ban will not be reversed, although there must be a suspicion that he is playing to the national gallery. The Sports Minister has however conceded that alcohol will be sold.

Similar laws exist in Russia, host of the following tournament in 2018. However newly re-elected Russian President Vladimir Putin, a figure perhaps more in tune with the realpolitik of sporting commercialism is already suggesting that the laws may be changed. I have no doubt that they will be.
FIFA makes all sorts of demands upon host countries. In order to win the bid host countries have to agree to tax breaks, stadium improvements and infrastructure. Very often the host country is placed in economic or political difficulty.
FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke, Sepp Blatter's right hand man, caused a massive outcry and political stink when addressing preceived delays in progress with Brazilian stadia and infrastructure improvements.  Speaking in French he claimed that 'I dont understand why things are not moving. The stadiums are not on schedule anymore and why are a lot of things late?' He concluded tha tthe Brazilian authorities needed a 'kick up the backside'! Needless to say this caused immense offence and Valcke was forced to issue a grovelling apology and to claim that his remarks were misunderstood. I have read the French version, they were not. Unfortunately it transpires that Valcke may have a point, in any language. Ports and hotels have not been upgraded to provide the necessary accommodation and FIFA has now effectively created a crisis board to address its concerns. Just dont say it too loudly in Braxil
Meanwhile Brazilian football is mired in controversy with its National Governing Body President, Texeira, forced to resign in the face of relentless corruption allegations.Sepp blatter was obliged to attend a summit with Brazilian President Rousseff, minus Valcke, but with football legend Pele drafted in, to attempt to get the project back on its rightful track. Yet still the contentious clauses in the World Cup bill before Parliament remain to be enacted.
FIFA insists that its will shall prevail (failure is too awful to contemplate), but I wonder if  they may be underestimating the resistance of a developing nation to being dictated too. Who will blink first? With a PR disaster looming, it may be FIFA which needs a face saving compromise although it is in commercially choppy waters. Organisational chaos would ensue if Brazil suddenly became unviable. Certainly in future FIFA will have to get its World Cup host negotiations right.
Meanwhile, a FIFA bloody nose - I'll drink to that, and preferably with a non FIFA sponsored beer!!


Tuesday, 17 January 2012

German Skater Unmasked by Biological Passport

Lessons can be learnt by governing bodies seeking to combat doping in their sports from the example of Claudia Pechstein, a speed skater, who was a darling of the German sports scene. During the course of an illustrious career she accumulated no less than 9 Olympic medals including 5 golds and competed in 5 consecutive Winter Olympic Games from 1992 to 2006.
 In February 2009 the fairytale turned into her nightmare. 
Between 2000 and 2009 Pechstein had been drug tested numerous times in and out of competition. Significantly she had never failed a drug test. At the 2009 World Championships she was tested shortly before the competition was due to begin. As a result of the findings, in particular, unusually raised levels of reticulocytes (immature red blood cells) she was tested again the following day. She was then withdrawn from competition by her Federation. She was suspected of 'illegal manipulation of her own blood', specifically EPO blood doping. The tests did not reveal the presence of performance enhancing substances.
As part of the International Skating Union's anti doping programme 90 blood samples had been taken from Pechstein over the course of a number of years both in and out of competition. They afforded the anti doping team an in depth biological passport of the skater. The ISU's experts analysed these blood samples and considered the 2009 findings. On the 6th and 7th February 2009 Pechstein's reticulocyte levels were 3.49, 3.54 and 3.38. The average European would have values between 0.4 and 2.4. At the same time her haemoglobin and hematocrit values were effectively normal ie within ISU limits. Pechstein's mean value over the course of 17 tests from November 2007 until January 2009  was 2.10 with a maximum of 2.84 and a minimum of 1.27. There were also significant fluctuations in Pechstein's levels. On the 8th January 2009 her level was 1.74, by the 6th February it was 3.49 (an increase of 100.6%) and by the 18th February it was down to 1.37 (down 60.7%). Following EPO administration it is usual for reticulocyte level to decline significantly.
Expert evidence suggested that a difference from the mean value of between 24 and 36% would equate to  an 'abnormal value'. In Pechstein's case an acceptable  increase would only have taken her level to at most 2.85.
Although the ISU Disciplinary Commission did not have the benefit of an adverse analytical finding, its case that Pechstein had doped, was enhanced by further circumstantial evidence. During the early part of 2009 Pechstein had frequently changed her 'whereabouts' at short notice rendering out of competition testing 'near impossible'. It was also signifant that Pechstein's performances were still improving at an age when a decline in performance would be expected.
In order to prove a doping violation the ISU were allowed by their rules to establish 'by any reasonably reliable means' and to a standard of 'comfortable satisfaction' that the offence had been committed. Their case was that Pechstein's values were generally within acceptable norms, but, at the time of important competitions since 2007, her levels were 'clearly abnormal'. These abnormal levels would then rapidly return to normal or even to much lower than normal levels shortly after that competition (consistent with EPO blood doping). The ISU's case was that the circumstantial evidence could only be explained by an 'artificial method of manipulation that stimulates red blood cell production'.
One of the difficulties for Pechstein was that the level of reticulocytes provides a 'real time assessment of the functional state of erythropoiesis (process of red blood cell formation) in a person's organism'. The reticulocyte level cannot be reduced by an increase in the fluid content of the blood through an outside intervention. A cheat therefore has no means of hiding the reticulocyte level's increase through blood doping.
If Pechstein had used EPO, then as was argued on her behalf, why was EPO not detected in her tests? The answer, according to experts and as found by the ISU and subsequently the CAS Panel is that exogenous EPO can only usually be detected for a couple of days after its administration and in no case has it been detected after 4 days. All trace of it disappears, but its effects remain. The answer in this case would appear to have been that during the approach to competition and whilst defeating the out of competition testers by constantly changing her whereabouts Pechstein used EPO, but at sufficient distance from the competition to avoid a positive test result. Experts also testified that hematocrit and haemoglobin levels can remain stable during EPO doping and that 'hemodilution' can mask any such changes, but cannot act upon reticulocyte levels.
Claudia Pechstein put forward a number of arguments, especially at the CAS appeal hearing. The majority of these were swiftly dismissed as implausible, unsubstantiated or demonstrably untenable. By way of example she argued that the extreme cold affected her test results. Unfortunately all the other athletes tested produced results within acceptable norms in spite of competing in the same chilly conditions.
The pool of experts before CAS did agree that a plausible explanation might be that the appellant suffered from a 'potential haematological abnormality' such as 'hereditary spherocytosis'. During the original investigation and prior to the ISU Disciplinary hearing, Pechstein had refused to cooperate with investigations of this nature. Ironically, for the CAS appeal, Pechstein had undergone an examination and investigations by Germany's most regarded expert in the field, an expert of Pechstein's choosing. All the experts agreed that the appropriate tests had been carried out by him. Pechstein's expert found no evidence at all to support the proposition that the disease existed in her case.
The CAS Panel cited this factor as the 'decisive element' in the case.
This was the first doping case to be proved by circumstantial evidence rather than an adverse analytical finding. The case continued to attract controversy. The German Society of Hematology and Oncology concluded that this was a case of a light form of blood anaemia 'spherocytosis' inherited from her father'.
 Pechstein, continued to protest her innocence and even tried to appeal the CAS findings to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. They rejected her appeal. She served a 2 year ban, only returning in February 2011, when she managed to win a bronze medal in the 5000m at the World Championships. She continues to compete at almost 40 years of age, but with her reputation tarnished beyond repair.
Of course skating had the advantage of numerous blood samples going back some years to enable the biological passport of Pechstein to be established. Sports such as tennis, for instance, will have to bite the bullet and invest in a significant blood testing programme to achieve similar results. The key question is whether, in a sport in which its stars make fortunes, there is the will to redirect sufficient sums towards a credible testing programme?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Spot of Bother

Mervyn Westfield earnt himself the unwanted title of 'first English cricketer convicted of spot fixing'. The 23 year old former Essex fast bowler admitted his guilt at the Old Bailey last month. He was charged with accepting or obtaining a corrupt payment to aid spot betting. He pleaded guilty at the last moment, just before the start of his trial. The events concerned a televised Pro 40 game against Durham in September 2009. The match was being televised live in India. Westfield acknowledged that he had agreed to concede 12 runs when bowling the very first over of the match. It was not clear who exactly he agreed this with on the day of his plea, but His Honour Judge Morris presiding over the case said that the scam also involved a figure 'well known in cricket circles'. The middle man was believed to be Westfield's then Essex colleague, Danish Kaneria of Pakistan. Kaneria was also arrested, and admitted introducing Westfield to the bookmaker, but he was released without charge due to lack of evidence, claiming he knew nothing of their arrangement. Considerably more was revealed about the pernicious influence of Kaneria today when Westfield reappeared for sentence.  As it happened Westfield only conceded 10 runs off the over. One wonders how he could have hoped to give away a precise number of runs without the agreement of the batsmen. It has never been suggested that the batsmen were involved in the scam.
Westfield received a sentence of 4 months imprisonment today.
Following the widely publicised spot fixing trial involving the Pakistani cricketers, Butt, Asif and Amir, discussion has been rife about the prevalence or otherwise of corruption in cricket. That corruption has now tainted the English game, and within 3 months 4 cricketers have been given custodial sentences by English courts. The Head of the ICC's anti corruption unit, Sir Paul Condon has previously suggested that corruption was widespread in cricket from the 1980s until 2000. Many  incidents from the past are now being looked at with a raised eyebrow. There are many rumours, but one of the problems is that few have stepped forward with hard facts. Wrongdoing has been protected by a form of 'cricketing omerta'. What is particularly depressing about the Westfield case, as with Amir, is that a young and gifted player has thrown away a potentially glittering career for a quick buck.
It has been suggested that the County game might be particularly vulnerable to this form of corruption. Westfield was to be paid £6,000 for about 2 minutes' dishonesty. That is a significant sum for a modestly paid county pro. Players facing 15 years trundling round the circuit without any expectation of making the big time, might find themselves similarly tempted. Equally depressing to me is the fact that there were numerous rumours and even knowledge, according to the judge, about the activities of Kaneria amongst the playing and coaching staff of Essex, but nobody prevented the corrupting of young Westfield. Nobody stepped forward as they were required to do and reported their colleague. There is a suspicion that Kaneria was protected because he was a match winning and accordingly valuable player. Cricket needs to take a long hard look at itself.
The fact that the match was being televised in India no doubt made it more attractive to the betting fixers. The ECB will have to consider whether selling the TV rights to such matches and accordingly exposing them to illegal betting practices in Asia is a price worth paying. Television though also  increased the level of scrutiny on the actions of the players. Cricket cannot survive without the money provided by TV companies. A further complication is that the matches are also available illegally on numerous websites. The greatest protection for the game is vigilance and scrutiny. When Amir bowled his no balls at Lords, TV commentators were immediately questioning what was going on.
Westfield has thrown away his career, he will surely receive a significant, probably career ending ban, to go with his custodial sentence. The sentence of 4 months imprisonment was described by the Judge as a deterrent sentence, but was it truly? Westfield will probably only serve a month with release on Home Detention Curfew highly likely. The Judge doubted whether Westfield's protestations of remorse and regret were genuine. Before going down to the cells he was said to have gestured and smiled at somebody in the public gallery. Was he expecting a more significant punishment?
But what of Kaneria? There was not enough evidence to proceed against him, and now 2 years later the Police have indicated that they are no longer interested in him. He has not played for Pakistan since being dropped last year. The new era Pakistan are highly unlikely to return to him. He is under investigation by the cricketing authorities. Westfield also faces a lengthy ban, but he could significantly improve his situation by co - operating and naming names.A number of people might be nervously waiting for a knock on their door. On the other hand, Westfield would be making some powerful enemies amongst some very undesirable people.
Cricket lovers can only hope that this is not the tip of the iceberg and that the game can return to calmer waters.
Cricketers are now better advised and educated about the threat from fixing. However the best deterrence is the fear of a high probability of being caught. The authorities need to prioritise this above all else.
Finishing on a positive note the ECB has declared an amnesty on the failure of players to report illegal approaches, a disciplinary offence, until the 30th April to encourage players to step foward and co-operate. Good may come from the downfall of a talented but misguided young man.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Working for the Team?

 British Triathlete Harry Wiltshire has had his appeal against a 6 month ban for 'repeated unsportsmanlike conduct' upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Wiltshire himself gave evidence as did meeting officials. CAS ruled that the length of the suspension was not 'grossly disproportionate'.
Wiltshire was heavily criticised during the European Championships held in Spain last June. He was involved in clashes during the swim with the Spanish triathlete and World Champion, Javier Gomez, and video footage later suggested that Wiltshire had deliberately impeded the Spaniard by slowing down and blocking his exit from the water before transition to the cycling limb of the event. Gomez was one of the main favourites, but eventually finished only 40th. He did not directly blame Wiltshire's antics for his lowly placing, he said he had suffered with stomach cramps. He did question however whether Wiltshire had caused him to swallow more water than usual by pulling him under the surface during the swim element. Gomez was highly critical of Wiltshire's actions and called upon the International Triathlon Union (ITU) to take firm action. They certainly did.
The event was won by Wiltshire's British teammate, Alistair Brownlee, with Brownlee's younger brother, Jonathon, in silver medal position. Gomez would ordinarily be one of their main rivals. It appears that Wiltshire acted to improve the position of the Brownlees. Whether he was specifically acting on team orders is unclear. Teams are allowed to work together on the cycling element, and indeed some competitors are specifically selected to act as 'domestiques' to more favoured riders, but they are not allowed to act in this manner during the swimming. Wiltshire, in any event, took matters to a whole new level and brought the sport into disrepute.
British elite triathlete, Stuart Hayes, who was not competing in Spain, labelled Wiltshire 'a disgrace'.
Meanwhile Wiltshire described himself as 'extremely upset' at the ban. He has been competing in triathlon for 14 years. His place in the GB Olympic Team is now in jeopardy as he will not have sufficient time to achieve enough points for qualification.
British Triathlon stated that it is 'committed to promoting fair play and ethical sporting conduct and following the ITU review of the evidence, will continue to support ITU in maintaining a safe and fair field of play for all athletes'.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Suarez - end of the saga?

The FA's Independent Regulatory Commission has published its detailed reasoning (115 pages) in the matter of the FA and Luis Suarez, Liverpool's Uruguayan striker. In reality this was Suarez v Patrice Evra. Evra complained during, and after, the Liverpool v Man Utd Premier League match in November that he had been racially abused by Suarez. Initially Evra believed that he had been called a 'nigger'. He complained to the referee Andre Marriner and after the game to fellow players, Sir Alex Ferguson and then most dramatically to Canal Plus live on French television. Later it transpired that he had misunderstood the Spanish translation of 'negro' ('black' or 'blackie'). The FA Disciplinary Regulatory Team conducted an exhaustive inquiry, interviewing players, linesmen, Marriner and various team officials as well as scrutinising footage from TV companies including some which was not originally broadcast. Evra and Suarez were interviewed under taped conditions. The investigation was complicated by the linguistic difficulties which arise from a Premier League dominated by nationalities from across the globe. Suarez addressed Evra in a South American latin dialect Spanish. Evra, a multi lingual, but predominantly French speaker, also spoke to Suarez in his version of Spanish. Directly after the game, Daniel Comolli, Liverpool's Director of Football and a Frenchman, spoke to Suarez in Spanish before reporting Suarez's version of events to the referee. Dirk Kuyt gave evidence in the proceedings. He had spoken to Suarez after the game in Dutch. Suarez is an able dutch speaker having spent a number of seasons at Ajax Amsterdam. The interpretation and comprehension of these conversations was a major obstacle to the enquiry. The FA sought the assistance of linguistic experts and received detailed reports as to the nuances and cultural differences of various words and gestures. Ultimately these reports were accepted by both sides.
Both sides were represented by legal teams. They had the opportunity to make representations with regard to the composition of the Commission. Interestingly at the disciplinary hearing before the Commission, Luis Suarez was allowed to have a 'friend' sit with him during the hearing and his testimony. The Commission recognised that this was a serious matter with potentially profound consequences for the player. Suarez was 'accompanied' by a member of staff from Liverpool Football Club.
Suarez in effect faced 2 charges.He was accused of using insulting words or behaviour. Additionally this was alleged to have been aggravated by the insults making reference to race or ethnicity, in htis case the colour of Evra's skin. The Commission ruled that it was not deciding whether Suarez was a racist per se, but whether in this instance he was guilty of the relevant conduct. Indeed Evra had stated baldly in his witness statement that he did not believe that Suarez was generally racist and indeed that he had previously had a high regard for him, particularly in playing terms.
In essence the Commission had to decide on the balance of probabilities whether Suarez had abused Evra and made reference in so doing to his race or ethnicity. The burden of proving the allegations lay with the FA. The seriousness of the allegations and the consequences for Suarez if convicted, were taken into account in deciding whether the allegations were found to be proven. In other words the Commission imposed upon itself extra caution before arriving at its verdict.
Although witness statements had been served in advance, the Commission heard evidence in chief from the main protagonists in order to get an enhanced flavour of their cases. Suarez was assisted throughout by an interpreter. Evra gave his evidence in English and although he had an interpreter available to assist him, he did not ultimately find it necessary to use their services.
The TV footage assisted in as much as it showed the sequence of events and the comings together between the 2 players, but it was of only limited assistance with regard to what was actually said as for the majority of the time the camera did not capture the mouths of the 2 players. Interestingly and significantly, Suarez was captured pinching Evra's skin during the exchange. Evra had not been aware of this at the time. Evra stated that he had been called 'negro' 7 times by Suarez. Suarez claimed in his testimony to have only used the word once and in a context which was not insulting.
The case boiled down to the credibility of each side. What was determinative in my opinion was that Evra came across impressively before the Commission. He was straightforward. He revealed that he had abused Suarez first after being aggrieved by a Suarez foul. Suarez had not heard this. Evra had accordingly chosen to reveal something which did him no credit whatsoever. Evra was consistent throughout. He also spoke well of Suarez generally as mentioned in previous paragraphs. He did not appear to have an agenda. Suarez's team never managed to show any malicious motive on the part of Evra towards Suarez in making his allegations.
The Commission were more troubled by Suarez's account. He was not consistent. He appeared to have changed his account to fit in with other evidence of which he had become aware after his initial FA interview. The evidence of Comolli and Manager Kenny Dalglish as to what had been said by Suarez immediately after the game undermined his original account. His testimony included an admission that he had clearly stated something in his witness statement which was untenable and untrue. He claimed to have pinched Evra in an act of conciliation, but subsequently conceded that this was incorrect and implausible. The Commission found that his case had altered to take account of the expert reports with regard to cultural and linguistics differences in South America. Ultimately they did not sufficiently believe Suarez so as to be able to defeat Evra's more compelling account.
The Commission's detailed reasoning clearly sets out their approach and demonstrates the very great care with which they approached their task. In my opinion it would be extremely difficult, indeed foolhardy given the possibility of increased penalty, for Suarez to appeal the Commission's finding  as to liability. On the other hand this is a finding that will damage Suarez's reputation forever.
Suarez was banned for 8 games. Looking at Liverpool's approaching fixtures it seems likely that Suarez would miss 4 Premier League games and 4 cup matches if he accepted the punishment and did not appeal.
Liverpool's decision to wear t - shirts supporting the player post the announcement of the verdict appears particularly ill advised now in the light of the published reasoning.
Should Suarez appeal the sanction? There is little precedent. In 2002 John Mackie, a Reading player, admitted racially abusing Carl Asaba of Sheffield United. He apologised the following day and donated 2 weeks' wages to Anti Racism causes. Sheffield United accepted the apology. Nonetheless the FA suspended him for 8 matches of which 5 were suspended. Mackie's career never really recovered. Suarez is of course a far more prominent international player. The starting point for the Suarez Commission was a suspension of 4 games. This is arrived at, in accordance with the FA rule book, by doubling the  automatic sanction for a dismissal for foul and abusive language. The commission has doubled this. Their reasoning included their finding of a number of aggravating factors. They found that Suarez was guilty of 'multiple uses of insulting words' rather than an isolated incident. He specifically targeted Evra and stated that 'he kicked him because he was black' and 'he did not talk to blacks'. The exchanges had taken place in multiple phases in a heated environment. Undoubtedly the fact that Suarez's actions significantly undermined anti - racism campaigns was a major factor in the sanction. Suarez was made an example of.
The reality is that it would be a major climbdown if the sanction were to be reduced on appeal. The   message that racist abuse will not be tolerated would be significantly weakened. In my opinion this will not happen. Liverpool have got themselves into a corner, doing everything to support their player, but now left looking somewhat foolish. Their previous demands, that Evra be sanctioned if Suarez was vindicated, now look very ill judged. Evra on the other hand emerges as honest and reasonable. The sensible thing would be for Suarez and Liverpool to accept the punish and move on. Common sense does not always prevail in football however.