Buenos Aires: Diego Maradona blasted Fifa’s ban on Uruguay striker Luis Suarez as “criminal” and said world soccer’s governing body might as well handcuff the striker and lock him up in Guantanamo prison.
“Who did Suarez kill?” Maradona said during his soccer commentary programme broadcast on Venezuela’s Telesur and Argentine public television on Thursday night. “This is football, this is contact,” the Argentine legend said. “They may as well handcuff him and send him to Guantanamo directly.”
The controversial U.S. prison in Cuba, opened during the Bush administration, is heavily criticized by human rights groups for indefinite imprisonment of many detainees without charge or trial.
Temperamental Maradona, who led Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup, known for his flamboyant declarations, is echoing outrage in Uruguay, where many are fuming at a ban they deem exaggerated, hypocritical or outright biased.
Many abroad, however, were horrified by brilliant but volatile Suarez’s biting of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on Tuesday.
Suarez was given longest sanction imposed at a World Cup by soccer’s governing body on Thursday, suspended from all football-related activity for four months and banned for nine international matches.
But Maradona, who like Suarez emerged from a poor background to rise to global fame, fervently defended “Luisito” throughout the programme, at the end even unveiling a T-shirt with “We’re with you Luisito” scrawled on the front.
“If he made a mistake, fine, they should punish him, but they shouldn’t exaggerate, they shouldn’t be moralistic,” said Maradona, who is close to Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro.
Leftist Uruguayan President Jose Mujica also phoned in to the programme, blasting what he saw as a move to sideline Uruguay from the tournament where many European heavyweights have bit the dust. “We kicked out Italy, we kicked out England, how much money was lost there?,” said Mujica, a 79 year-old former guerrilla. “We’re Uruguay, we’re very little. It was cheap (for them to do).”
The European establishment could not understand Suarez’s tough street style, Mujica and Maradona opined. “Incredible players are often born here in the heart of poverty,” Mujica said. “They don’t understand him because they don’t want to and because they were born in another society with other resources.”
Meanwhile, Suarez flew home on Friday after being thrown out of the World Cup and banned from soccer for four months for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.
Liverpool striker Suarez was met by outraged President Jose Mujica when he landed at a military base next to Uruguay’s main airport before dawn, an air force spokesman said. After his arrival on Friday, Suarez, his wife and other family members were driven to a home he has in the small coastal town of Solymar.
Meanwhile, Suarez needs treatment to overcome his disciplinary problems, Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke said on Friday.
“He should go for a treatment,” Valcke said when asked by reporters about the Suarez case. “I don’t know if it exists but he should do something by himself because it’s definitely wrong.”
Valcke welcomed the ban on Suarez. “If it’s the first time, it’s an incident. More than once, it is not any more an incident. That is why also the sanction, it has to be exemplary.”
Valcke said Fifa was concerned about the impact of the images of Suarez biting an opponent on football fans worldwide, including children. “It was seen by hundreds of millions of people. It is not what you want your kids, what you want the little (ones) who are playing football around the world, to see at a World Cup,” he told journalists at Fifa’s daily tournament media briefing.