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.
Agree with your lessons, but what would be the lesson behind the news that Barcelona confirmed the hiring of Suarez just 4 days ago with a contract exceeding 70MM Euros?
Peter—An amazing contract. I think the lesson from that is I should have focused on playing soccer.
For athletes, it is incredibly important to be successful on the field. That drives contacts. Building a positive brand is also important, however, since that is what lasts after retirement.
Lesson #5: no matter what don’t bite!