Suarez to get Bok biter’s ban?

2014-06-25 14:25
Luis Suarez (AFP)

Cape Town – Banned for around a year and a half each ... and the simultaneous end of their respective Test and first-class careers.

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That was the fate of two South African rugby players – Springbok prop Johan le Roux and Super Rugby-level Sharks loose forward Wickus van Heerden – found guilty of high-profile biting offences in the 1990s and slapped with suspensions extremely rare in their severity.

This form of sporting misconduct is back in the global spotlight once more after already controversial Uruguay striker Luis Suarez stands accused -- and aided by seemingly damning television evidence -- of sinking his teeth into an Italian opponent’s shoulder during the World Cup soccer match in Natal, Brazil, on Tuesday.

Speculation varies worldwide on how long the stormy Liverpool hit man may be sidelined for if found guilty by world governing body Fifa, which is “awaiting the official match reports and will gather all the necessary elements in order to evaluate the matter”.

Suarez has been suspended twice before for biting offences – seven matches in 2010 (PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal) and a further 10 in 2013 (Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic) – so being banished for the rest of the World Cup appears the very minimum sit-out he will cop.

But some British newspapers suggest he may be ripe now (considering his glaringly aggravating “previous”) for an altogether more lengthy suspension of some 18 to 24 months: Fifa’s disciplinary code sets a maximum ban of 24 matches or two years.

Liverpool were reportedly in crisis talks over their star striker on Wednesday, given the possible repercussions for his club career, not to mention the likely tempering of interest in his signature from elsewhere during the transfer window period if he is struck with a long-term ban.

In rugby, the International Rugby Board’s (not yet applied, it seems) maximum sanction for biting is double that of Fifa: four years, with a supposed minimum suspension of 12 weeks, although mitigation of four weeks can be applied under some circumstances.

That may explain the most recent case of a top-flight player – England hooker Dylan Hartley – found guilty of the offence only being handed eight weeks in March 2012; he bit the finger of Ireland’s Stephen Ferris.

But Le Roux and Van Heerden (the last-named player not to be confused with later Bok loose forward Wikus without the ‘c’) remain two of the most prominent instances of career-affecting, genuinely extended bans for biting.

Then-Transvaal tighthead prop Le Roux, 32 at the time, earned notoriety for his pretty clearly visible “help yourself” to the ear of All Blacks hooker Sean Fitzpatrick in a Wellington Test for the Boks in 1994.

It was a blatant, seemingly unprovoked event desperately hard to justify and to their credit the Bok camp didn’t. Manager Jannie Engelbrecht said after the match: “With immediate effect and on the first available plane, he will depart for South Africa.”

Some wags said it was a devious move to bypass disciplinary procedures in New Zealand itself, but if Le Roux thought he would arrive home to a sympathetic response, he was quickly mistaken: the domestic authorities slapped him with his 18-month ban and provincial coach Kitch Christie, a year later to become South Africa’s maiden World Cup-winning mastermind, also said he would not pick him at Currie Cup level again.

That was the end of the now 52-year-old, Vereeniging-born front-ranker’s three-Test contribution to the national cause.

But only four years on, in the early heyday of the Super 12 competition, Sharks workhorse Van Heerden, considerably more debatably, found himself given the dreaded year-and-a-half identical treatment for a biting offence himself, this time to the chagrin of many team-mates who were dubious about his guilt against Waratahs prop Richard Harry in Sydney.

Outspoken team-mate Ollie le Roux even went as far, in a magazine interview not long afterwards with this writer, as to suggest the unassuming Van Heerden had been made a deliberate fall-guy and that Harry had effectively cried wolf over the alleged incident – he branded him, among other things, “one of those First World soft-c**ks”.

The Aussie-convened disciplinary panel in the Van Heerden case indicated that he might have been handed two years under Super 12 foul-play law provisions, but that his “unblemished disciplinary record over 11 years” ahead of the flashpoint had been taken into consideration.

Many at Kings Park felt that clean record ought to have formed a stronger case, instead, for the player’s acquittal.  

Van Heerden, who was even closer to his mid-thirties than Le Roux was at the time his ban was imposed, retired disillusioned to tend to his Amanzimtoti coffee shop business.

In contrast to the already long-in-the-tooth South African rugby players given those marathon suspensions, the sublimely talented Suarez is just 27 and, rightly or wrongly, likely to stay in massive worldwide demand for some years to come.

That’s regardless of whether or not there is significant sanction for his latest alleged indiscretion and even despite the deepening concerns that he may not be the fullest box of Smarties upstairs for temperamental control ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on: springboks luis suarez rugby

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