Cavani contrition sadly undermined by Uruguayan arguments - and Suarez

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Manchester United and Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani.
Manchester United and Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani. Manchester United and Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani.

MORE than 15 years ago someone came into The Irish News offices and, by chance, asked me where Bimpe Fatogun was.

With my head used to turning in her direction, even before I persuaded her to go out with me, I looked round… then hesitated.

I could have said 'the brown girl', given that every other female sitting nearby was white, but instinctively that didn't feel right.

Instead I pointed at her and said 'There, wearing the green top' (or whatever colour it was).

That occasion came to mind again due to the latest incident in soccer about referring to someone by the colour of their skin.

Rather surprisingly, it involved a Manchester United player.

Even more surprisingly (or perhaps not), it was a Uruguayan, striker Edinson Cavani.

There's absolutely no sarcasm in those comments.

Nine years on from 'the Suarez-Evra' incident – no first names required - it's astonishing that a Manchester United player, especially one from Uruguay, would refer publicly to the colour of someone's skin.

The circumstances were very, very different, of course, with Cavani responding to a friend on Instagram rather than, as Luis Suarez did, arguing in the heat of a Liverpool-Manchester United match.

When Cavani used the term 'negrito', roughly translated as 'little black man', it was certainly not intended as an insult, the 33-year-old explaining: "It was intended as an affectionate greeting to a friend, thanking him for his congratulations after the game. The last thing I wanted to do was cause offence to anyone.

"I am completely opposed to racism and deleted the message as soon as it was explained that it can be interpreted differently."

Yet it's inconceivable that Cavani, the same age and from the same small city (Salto) as Suarez, could be unaware of the controversy which engulfed his international colleague in 2011.

It's mindboggling that Manchester United didn't make their Uruguayan signing fully aware that any reference to the colour of someone's skin is unacceptable.

As this column said at the time, even allowing Suarez the fullest benefit of the doubt, even accepting his claim that he used the term 'negro' ('black man' or 'blackie', depending on your interpretation) in a 'friendly' manner, without any racist intent, on a number of occasions… it was still wrong for him to refer to Patrice Evra by the colour of his skin. And quite right for him to get an eight-match ban.

Nine years to the day after the Suarez verdict report was released, on New Year's Eve, Cavani also received a ban, and a £100,000 fine.

Cavani's three-match suspension may seem harsh – with Man U fans recalling City's Bernardo Silva only getting a one-game ban for posting a blackface cartoon image about his team-mate and friend Benjamin Mendy.

However, Cavani pleaded guilty to the Football Association charge of using insulting and/or improper words. It was also alleged "that the comment constitutes an aggravated breach" which "included reference, whether express or implied, to colour and/or race and/or ethnic origin".

What's worrying is that new guidelines were agreed during the summer.

One wonders to what extent players were, and generally are, reminded of their responsibilities in this regard, especially those new to the Premier League.

Manchester United, quite sensibly, stated: "Despite his honest belief that he was simply sending an affectionate thank you in response to a congratulatory message from a close friend, he chose not to contest the charge out of respect for, and solidarity with, the FA and the fight against racism in football.

"The club trusts that the independent regulatory commission will make it clear in its written reasons that Edinson Cavani is not a racist, nor was there any racist intent in relation to his post."

That should have been the end of the matter – yet on Monday, the suspicion that some still don't take this issue seriously, was confirmed, and in stunning fashion.

The Uruguayan Football Players' Association (AFU) penned a letter of support for Cavani signed by professional and amateur players from the South American country, calling the FA's sanctioning of Cavani an act "against the culture and way of life of the Uruguayan people".

The cultural right to refer to someone's skin colour? Is that really the way you want to live your life?

To make matters worse, that letter was also Tweeted out by a certain Luis Suarez (as well as Uruguay captain Diego Godin).

As the saying goes, with friends like those…

The Uruguayan FA also issued a separate statement, demanding that the ban and fine be reviewed, saying: "We are convinced from our deep knowledge of the person and the analysis of the fact that he is not worthy of the [the punishment] nor the consequent moral damage."

Even before those Uruguayan statements one suspected that matters hadn't necessarily improved since 2011.

Just as then, some supporters have been pointing accusing fingers at the FA, as if they're being over-zealous, when, just as then, the blame largely lies with the player and the club.

Depressingly, in the nine years since 'Suarez-Evra', attitudes have arguably regressed. There's been a backlash against 'political correctness' when being PC is actually largely only about being considerate and respectful of others.

Now though we have to listen to 'free speech' merchants ranting about 'snowflakes' (although don't dare tell them that they can't sing certain songs or wave particular flags, or else they'll go into a foot-stamping mouth-frothing toddler-style tantrum themselves).

Former Liverpool star John Barnes has long made the case that 'black' isn't necessarily an insult, often merely a descriptor – but surely most people can see that it is an unnecessary term, and one that's loaded with centuries of prejudice and, yes, insult.

Uefa has still to decide on what sanction, if any, is required after a linesman referred to Istanbul Basaksehir assistant coach Pierre Webo as 'that black guy', leading to the abandonment of their Champions League match at Paris Saint-Germain.

Sure, there may have been no ill intent, but how difficult is it to simply point out who the person is? How often is someone indicated by the description 'the white guy'?

Manchester United as a club and Cavani as a person dealt admirably and appropriately with the aftermath of his ill-judged post.

Those statements from the Uruguayan Football Players' Association and the Uruguayan FA are extremely unhelpful though.