RIO DE JANEIRO — Luis Suarez could become just as awkward for football’s international organizers to handle as he has been for rival teams at the World Cup.
The Uruguay forward’s alleged bite into the left shoulder of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in a crucial group-stage game has hit a raw nerve at a tournament which has been characterized by a high quality of football and entertainment.
The consequences of Suarez’s bite — just before Uruguay scored the clinching goal to knock out the four-time champion Italians — will now test FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s often-stated commitment to “fair play, discipline, respect.”
Blatter, who was in the crowd for the Uruguay-Italy match at Natal, has previously pledged a zero tolerance for the darker side of the game. Many are questioning where that leaves a player like Suarez, the star Liverpool striker who has a history of disciplinary problems.
In the early hours of Wednesday, FIFA announced it had opened a disciplinary case against the player.
The case will now be managed by Swiss lawyer, Claudio Sulser, chairman of the FIFA disciplinary committee. A former international forward himself, Sulser has worked for four years at FIFA, first as head of its ethics committee and now the disciplinary panel.
Sulser can choose to judge the obvious offense within the scale of typical red-card incidents: A three-match ban may then be appropriate, banishing Suarez at least until the World Cup final should Uruguay advance through the knockout rounds.
There’s scope for a more severe sanction: under the guidelines a ban of up to 24 international matches could be applied.
FIFA can also choose to ban Suarez for a period of time, to a maximum of two years, likely covering all football and not just Uruguay duty. That could affect a widely speculated transfer to Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Suarez and the Uruguay football federation had until 5 p.m. local time (4 p.m. EDT/2000 GMT) to present a documented case for the defense, though he is unlikely to be called to Rio de Janeiro to meet with Sulser’s panel.
“They are really aware of the urgency of this matter to be dealt with,” FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said Wednesday.
FIFA stated it would call on video evidence, which surely will have pleased Blatter, a proponent of using video evidence in cases which on-field officials missed.
“Video evidence can be used for serious breaches of the principle of fair play such as brawling, spitting at opponents, verbal insults and racist slurs, or for incorrectly awarded red or yellow cards,” he wrote in February.
Images of Chiellini pulling aside the sleeve of his Azzurri shirt on the field to show the referee the marks on his shoulder were broadcast around the world. FIFA also has access to footage from other angles and other parts of the field.
Completing the case ahead of Saturday’s match could be complicated if Suarez appeals any ban. That challenge could go direct to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland for an urgent and binding ruling.
However, one option open to FIFA and Sulser to avoid that scenario is that a suspension of “fewer than three matches or of up to two months” cannot be appealed, according to FIFA rules.