Soup of This Day #383: Geronimo
A common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) having a drink that I choose to believe is a White Russian cocktail – Photo: Nathan Bittinger, 2011. Nathan Bittinger is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.
Last night, in a decisive 2014 World Cup match between Italy and Uruguay, charismatic Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez apparently bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. This is unusual but not surprising – Suárez has some form for this kind of transgression as he has twice previously bitten opponents during professional soccer matches.
When I was very little I bit my brother on the arm.
At least four times.
He bit me once too which I think, given that he is older and therefore had more teeth at the time, makes for an equitable exchange. Mum and Dad disagreed though and I suffered severe repercussions. My parents frowned upon biting. So does most of everybody else. That’s why vampires and werewolves get such a bad rap. That and the Twilight movies.
Biting is especially frowned upon on the sporting field and in the subsequent press. Yep, it seems like you could break an opponent’s leg off and then beat your wounded foe around the head with the bloody stump*, and you’ll still only attract less revulsion than if you locked your chompers on their shoulder.
Personally, I’m not as overflowing with revulsion at biting. There is a lot of distaste to be sure, but mostly I’m just wondering why? As in both, ‘Why is Luis biting?’ and ‘Why does this offence stir up so much passion?’
The former question is a difficult one for me to answer – I’ve played a bit of sport and I’ve never felt the urge to clamp my teeth on anyone. I did once bite a sub right before the start of a game, but that was the sandwich and not a replacement player.
I in fact ate two foot-long subs just before that kick-off. My captain (and brother) was filled with revulsion at my lack of nutritional diligence vis-à-vis the impending football match. He was however conveniently distracted from my dietary transgression by two of our team-mates mouthing down some White Russians.
These were alcoholic beverages of that name (Kahlúa + Vodka), rather than pale peoples of Russian nationality. They don’t go for the latter kind of thing in Russia – They’re very conservative. Regardless, my brother was still incensed at the unprofessional conduct on display. I got the sense that, from a football perspective anyway, he would have preferred sober cannibals to drunk players. At least the former would have been looking to carve through the opposition defence, rather than getting all moody and emotional because nobody was watching their smooth moves.
You know who you were.
Sure, I can understand why FIFA will want to be seen to be stamping out biting though. It’s injurious. It hurts. I can’t remember what it felt like when my brother bit me but I do remember him yelping when I got my totally deserved revenge and boy did he get loud.
FIFA, to be fair though, do have a lot of things to stamp out. There’s the whiff of corruption, particularly around the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. There is also the blight of simulation – This has been a focus of FIFA for a while, yet still is a problem – In a match played just after the Italy vs Uruguay stoush, Greece beat the Ivory Coast 2-1, edging the Africans out of the tournament. The winning goal came from a penalty kick awarded in the 3rd minute of injury time. That decisive spot kick was won by what the reply shows was a clear dive by Greece striker Georgios Samaras. Even if Samaras faces retrospective action, that will be cold comfort to the Ivorians.
FIFA do come down hard on the more physical misbehaviours. They for instance stamp down on stamping down – A vicious stamp of a studded boot onto an opponent will garner a straight red card. This is the fate that befell Italy’s Claudio Marchisio in the 59th minute of that crucial clash with Uruguay. Claudio had had brought his fluoro-orange right boot down to rake the right shin of Uruguay’s Egidio Arévalo. It was an ugly challenge and so the referee showed no hesitation in holding up a red card.
This kind of punishment hasn’t eliminated stamping though – It’s just reduced the number of occurrences as players think about what they can gain against what they can lose. You can obtain possession of the ball and you can get ejected from the game.
Biting is much less common. Probably because it’s not clear what advantage is gained by it – When you’re trying to kick a ball with your feet, clamping your teeth around another player’s flesh is a discordant transfer of focus. Probably the best outcome for the biter is that the victim will have marinated in some sort of flavoursome seasoning before the match. I’m not thinking that there’s much in the way of honey-soy massage oil out there though.
So given the minimal impact on the football match, why does biting lead to such extreme reactions?
Perhaps it is the latent fear of disease transfer. This kind of viral transmission though seemingly unlikely is apparently possible. I’m not a medical practitioner but my research on the Internet has indicated that something like HIV for instance would require the biter to be infected, the bite to break the skin and for the biter to have a mouthful of blood. This would be bad.
It would also be bad if the biting player was a common vampire bat.
The common vampire bat is found throughout the Americas, including in Uruguay and Brazil, and can carry rabies. Which is bad. To counter that, I’m not a zoologist but my research on the Internet has indicated that there is some good news – Common vampire bats generally don’t play football.
What they do play is a game whereby they suck up some blood from a host and then mark them with urine so they can easily locate them again for 2nds.
Yep, they bite you and then they piss on you so that they can do it all again the next night.
Which brings us back to biting and what to do about it when it happens on the football pitch. For a start, FIFA should not play football at night because vampire bats are nocturnal. If a bite does occur, perhaps in the daytime, then prompt action is required.
Unfortunately Luis’ bite wasn’t spotted by the referee and a little while later the 11 men of Uruguay found a way through the 10 men of Italy and netted the only goal of the match. Italy are thus eliminated and Uruguay will progress, albeit possibly without Luis Suárez – FIFA have charged him based on a post-match video review. He faces a lengthy ban.
This is a part of my longer-term solution for the problem of biting in football – Significant bans paired with counselling – Don’t put players out there again until it’s safe enough to assume that they won’t bite.
In conclusion, biting in football is bad and if you happen to wake up smelling of bat piss, maybe see a medical practitioner. You’re welcome.
*You really can’t. This is less of a challenge and more of a thing that it’s just wrong to do.