3 bites and you're out.. Suarez, Shame and the World Cup

30/06/2014  -  9.58

Professor Andy Lane

“He’s bitten again," said a flight attendant as I queued to check in a flight returning from Spain. Uruguay vs Italy in the World Cup and Liverpool footballer Suarez goes to bite his opponent. It was a sneaky bite; he looked to get a nibble of the shoulder. The reaction of the player was to be expected; shock and then show the world the teeth marks. The spectating-world look on stunned; yes, we have seen Luis Suarez bite in Holland and in England but biting, it's just not something we expect to see an adult try to do to another never mind in a soccer game. In this article, I speculate on why he does this and comment on what can be done.

Why bite?

It seems he bites when he gets frustrated; things are not going his way. He has a passion to win and a motivation to score goals and gets frustrated by things not going his way. That explains his frustration but why bite? Soccer players tackle, push, obstruct and pull each other; sneaky shirt pulls, blocks, grabs are what defenders do to frustrate forwards. In the post match interview, Suarez said, “these things happen in football," alluding to the idea that players go outside of the rules to try to gain an advantage. And so we might expect to see aspects of nastiness, and we often see brutal tackles and the public seems to understand these much easier than biting, which we disapprove strongly. 

One possibility is that he believes he will get away with it; is this thought possible with intense media coverage? I find it hard to believe but maybe its not. It is possible that this intimidates defenders with the possibility of biting them that this aspect of nastiness gives him an advantage in his mind and because of this, he is prepared to go through this. If such a thought was possible, surely he would see the disadvantage. To draw a bite from Suarez would bring the recognisable teeth marks; its only blatant studding that produce such a clear link between the crime and its effects.  If Suarez thinks he can get away with it, and it’s a weapon to use to his advantage, then it would be interesting to hear from him; maybe, there are situations when he has hinted at biting, and this has worked for him. 

How to stop biting?

I heard the naughty step being mentioned, and that’s what we might do to children who bite – we might expect a two-year-old to bite not a 27-year-old!  The naughty-step is not just a punishment but a time out and time to think about why you are there. Connecting the punishment to the crime is vital otherwise the punishment loses its effectiveness as a means of preventing the crime recurring.  And so Suarez needs to know that biting is wrong and not just so remorse for getting caught. At the point of the post-match interview, his comment that “these things happen in soccer” offer an insight that he did not see an error. There have been calls for him to seek help. We can understand why these calls are made but for the treatment to be effective, it needs to be driven by Luis, and it needs to be done for reasons to help him stop biting, and not as an act to win back public favour. Unless he wants to stop this habit occurring, time spent on the naughty step of a 4-month ban will have little effect.   

Andy Lane is Professor of Sport and Learning at the University of Wolverhampton’s Institute of Sport.

Andy is accredited from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) for scientific support and research. He is a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society and has authored more than 100 peer refereed journal articles.