Kanouté: We need to study facts in more depth to avoid false racial abuse allegations
Freddie Kanouté, the former West Ham and Tottenham striker now playing in Spain for Sevilla, agrees that despite the FA’s reluctance to accept it the Liverpool striker Luis Suárez might well have been punished for cultural differences.
Kanouté told the BBC’s World Football Focus that he’s seen those cultural differences first-hand, including in Seville where he’s now been based for six years and is fluent in the Spanish language: “It’s different in every country you know.
“Here, some people, they have a way to talk to each other. It’s true; when I arrived here I was a bit shocked because that’s their way to express themselves.”
Suárez was banned for eight matches after an FA-appointed panel decided he wasn’t a credible witness and instead took the word of his accuser, Patrice Evra, finding a charge of insulting behaviour with a reference to race proven. A 115-page report was issued where the panel tried to justify their reasons for making that decision, but few who have commented on the case have taken the time to read it in full, meaning the inconsistencies it is littered with have had very little coverage.
The French-born Mali international stopped short of passing judgement on the case itself, instead pointing out that he’s not looked at the case in enough detail to be able to say who was right. He’s keeping an open mind – false allegations are dangerous and Suárez might have had a point: “But I’m not going to defend him, or the other player, because I haven’t studied the case.
“All the time I think we should study the cases more deeply to be sure we don’t accuse someone falsely.”
Kanouté was caught up in a ‘race row’ himself in October after accusations were made against Barcelona’s former Arsenal player Cesc Fabregas. Kanouté had been sent off after an altercation with Fabregas and local media reported that Kanouté had been provoked by insults which had a racial element to them. The accusations weren’t made by Kanouté.
Fabregas used Twitter to deny the claims: “I want to categorically deny that I made any kind of racist insult towards any Sevilla player. I will not tolerate anyone accusing me of things that I’m not. If they are frustrated by a decision that has gone against them on the football pitch then there are others ways to deal with it.
“To cry racism is cowardly and an easy option to excuse your own poor behaviour. My conscience is completely clear. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Kanouté, whilst reluctant to discuss exactly what Fabregas did say, made it clear in the BBC interview that there was no racial element to the words that were exchanged: “I’m not going to explain now what he said because this is something personal.
“Sometimes there is bad language on the pitch and sometimes some players react and that’s what I did – but I’ve never said he was racist and said racist things. I’ve got to be honest about that. There’s nothing about that and that’s it.”
Kanouté, a Muslim, found himself in a difficult situation at one point when his club got a new shirt sponsor – a betting company. Freddie refused to wear the shirt initially but later came to an agreement with his club that meant he wasn’t expected to take part in any other publicity work for the sponsor: “I felt I shouldn’t wear that shirt but we are in a society where sometimes you have to understand you are not on your own and sometimes you have to do things – as far as I’m concerned I’m not doing those kinds of things myself but it’s like publicity, I felt I shouldn’t make publicity of that kind of company.
“When I play football, when I’m in my personal life, I am still Muslim. It doesn’t change anything, so sometimes when there are some things that are not in agreement with my principles I say, ‘Stop, no,’ but that’s the only thing.
“I think I’ve been understood by the majority, let’s say, even the non-Muslims, because something is like common sense. Also there’s no problem at all expressing my views on some issues.”
Liverpool face Manchester United at Anfield today with Patrice Evra set to make his first appearance there since making those allegations in October.
It was after the league game between the two sides that Evra reported Luis Suárez to the referee for insulting him using the word “n****r”. Evra then went on French TV, claiming Suárez had used the word “more than ten times”, and the accusations were then aired around the world. Evra had made reference to only one occasion in his statement to the referee and would later change his evidence again to say the word used wasn’t “n****r” but the Spanish word “negro” (meaning “black”, not to be confused with the English word with the same spelling but different pronunciation and meaning).
Although Evra went public to make his “more than ten times” allegations and told reporters the word used was “n****r”, he is yet to clarify publicly that those allegations were false and exaggerated. Whatever the truth of what happened on the pitch at Anfield in October, it is a long way removed from the version Evra told the media.
Evra also told the hearing, but not the media, that before Suárez said anything at all to him he’d insulted the Uruguayan with the words “your sister’s c***.” The FA excused this on the grounds of there being cultural differences between the use of “your sister’s c***” in Spanish and its literal English translation. Despite ruling that Suárez’s use of the word “negro” should be judged based on its direct English translation and in the context of it being said on an English football pitch, with any cultural differences discounted, the panel ruled that Evra’s use of an extremely insulting phrase when directly translated into English should be judged based on the cultural use of the phrase in Spanish and not on its direct English translation.
The FA refuses to answer questions on those any many other inconsistencies. Liverpool, whilst not accepting the findings, have expressed a desire to move on from the incident. Much of the media and certain anti-discrimination campaigners don’t share that desire but also don’t show any desire for the truth, instead continuing to perpetuate a number of myths from the case.
* The full World Football Focus programme is now online on the BBC’s website: World Football Focus. (NB: Geographic restrictions may apply, content may only be available for a limited time.) Thanks to the producer, @SimonEllisJones, for letting us know about the programme.