There has been a lot of drama, excitement and controversy in Brazil over the past few weeks. Unfortunately for FIFA, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez has gotten a good part of the attention.
In Uruguay’s match with Italy, Suarez leaned over and bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder. It was a remarkable move.
It was not a smart decision by Suarez; people around the world condemned his action. It was also not a great moment for the World Cup. Football is supposed to be an elegant game. The idea that a player would attack another player is completely inconsistent with image of the sport.
Learning point #1:
When you are the center of attention, you should be on your best behavior.
Suarez then made a rather strange choice; he decided to deny the allegations. He explained that the incident was an accident. According to Suarez, “I hit my face against the player leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth.”
This was not a smart move, either. The video is quite clear. Suarez attacked Chiellini. There was nothing accidental about it. The apology did not go over well.
Learning point #2:
Don’t try to deny something when you are clearly guilty.
FIFA responded to the incident with a harsh penalty, banning Suarez from soccer for four months and from nine Uruguay games. .
President Jose Muijca of Uruguay then decided to defend Suarez. He proclaimed that the punishment was outrageous, called it an “aggression, not just for a man but also for a country.” He went on about the punishment, “It will be an eternal shame in the history of World Cups.”
This was yet another poor decision. Defending a soccer player who bites someone is not a smart thing to do.
Learning Point #3:
Distance yourself from troubled brands, don’t endorse them.
Today, Suarez issued a formal if half-hearted apology, noting “I vow to the public that there will never again be another incident.” He explained the move, noting “After several days of being home with my family, I have had the opportunity to regain my calm and reflect about the reality of what occurred during the Italy-Uruguay match.”
In other words, it took him a few days and a four-month suspension to realize that he shouldn’t have bitten another player.
Learning Point #4:
When you do something wrong, promptly say you are sorry. People are forgiving. Great brands understand this; they are quick to respond. If you wait, the apology loses its impact.
The one person who has helped his brand is the victim, Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. He issued a statement calling for a lighter penalty and said the incident was “all forgotten.”
Suarez, Uruguay and the World Cup all wish that was the case.