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English soccer authorities unite in fight against racism

File photo of Liverpool's Suarez and Manchester United's Evra looking at each other during their English Premier League soccer match at Anfi
File photo of Liverpool's Suarez and Manchester United's Evra looking at each other during their English Premier League soccer match at Anfi

By Mike Collett

LONDON (Reuters) - England's soccer and legal authorities appeared to be united in their fight against racism Wednesday after the English FA banned Liverpool's Luis Suarez for racial abuse and England captain John Terry was told he faced prosecution for the same offence.

Liverpool's Uruguayan striker Suarez, 24, was handed an eight-match ban and fined 40,000 pounds ($62,800) Tuesday after an independent FA commission found him guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during a Premier League game at Anfield on October15.

Less than 24 hours after the FA's announcement of that ground-breaking decision, the Crown Prosecution Service said it had "sufficient evidence" to prosecute Terry, the 31-year-old captain of England and Chelsea, for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers during another Premier League match on October 23.

Terry has vehemently denied the allegation, but the prosecution is going ahead after video footage of what he appeared to say was posted on the Internet and provoked a complaint to the police from a member of the public.

The maximum penalty Terry faces is a fine of 2,500 pounds ($3,900), loose change to a man earning a reported 150,000 pounds a week, but the damage to his reputation would be considerable.

SUAREZ DENIAL

Chelsea have issued a statement strongly defending their player with manager Andre Villas-Boas also backing him.

The statement on their website (www.chelseafc.com) read: "John has made it clear he denies the charge and is determined to do all he can to prove his innocence.

"Chelsea FC has always been fully supportive of John in this matter and there is no question that we will continue to be so.

"The club finds all forms of discrimination abhorrent and we are proud of the work we undertake campaigning on this important issue."

Liverpool meanwhile issued a forceful 500-word statement on Tuesday defending Suarez and calling into question Evra's claim that Suarez racially abused him "at least 10 times."

Liverpool have 14 days in which to lodge an appeal against the decision, and until they do, Suarez is free to play.

The Uruguayan government, his international team mates and coaching staff have all come out in support of Suarez.

"This leaves us with a disagreeable feeling," Uruguay's National Sports Director Ernesto Irureta told the Montevideo newspaper Ultimas Noticias (www.ultimasnoticias.com.uy).

"A sanction like this is absurd, out of place and absolutely exaggerated. What's more, there's the story that the other sportsman (Evra) might have called Luis a 'sudaca'," he added, referring to an insulting Spanish term for South Americans.

"What's happening in Europe is a product of their problems and not a product of what happens among players and one of them concerns racism... We have a country with differences but a long way from those circumstances that occur in the Old Continent."

National team coach Oscar Tabarez's assistant Celso Otero said: "It's a shame he should have been sanctioned this way for something that should have remained on the pitch."

Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) president Sebastian Bauza said the AUF was in touch with the FA and Liverpool through the Uruguayan embassy in England to give Suarez whatever backing he needed in his appeal against the sanction.

Players including Uruguay captain Diego Lugano said people in Uruguay, where a large percentage of the population is black or of mixed race, were not racist and used terms such as 'negro' in an affectionate manner or as nicknames.

"I can't believe it. They're making a big mistake. It's obvious that in England there's a racism problem they're trying to eradicate, and that's good, but this sentence has no solid arguments," Lugano said.

NOT TOLERATED

However, Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) in England, said that Suarez's punishment gave a "very strong message to the world" that racism would not be tolerated in the English game.

He added: "This was an independent commission experienced in law and football and they must have had compelling evidence and it sends out a very strong message to the rest of the world."

Suarez argued that due to cultural differences he did not realize that the language he used was seen as racist in Europe.

Taylor replied though, "I understand the point about cultural differences, but if you come to this country all players have to abide by not just the laws of the game, but the laws of the land as well.

"Referring to someone's skin color has got to be offensive - it's self-evident.

"No one can say the FA have ducked this issue and, bearing in mind the outcry in this country over (FIFA president) Sepp Blatter's remarks (on racism), it sends out an important message."

Blatter provoked a media outcry when he suggested, during a television interview, that racism on the pitch should be settled by a handshake. He later apologized for his comments. ($1 = 0.6384 British pounds)

(Reporting by Mike Collett)

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