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Is Suarez World Cup 'bite' such a big deal?

While a footballer who bites an opponent should be punished, the reaction to the Suarez incident is not rational.
Last modified: 25 Jun 2014 16:37
Suarez has done some fairly villainous things in his time but is biting really the worst of them? [AP]

I don't think I've bitten someone (in anger at least) since I was about six years old.

But I'm curious about the reaction to the latest Luis Suarez misdemeanour.

Why is biting perceived as so much more reprehensible than some of the other unpleasant acts that take place on a football pitch?

Is it really worse than deliberately running your studs down an opponent's shin, or elbowing a player in the face, both of which are more likely to result in lasting injury (unless, of course, you are deliberately spreading some deadly saliva-transmitted disease, which no one has seriously suggested applies in the Suarez case)?

I posed this question to my Facebook friends and got some interesting responses.

One friend wrote: "There is something particularly savage about [biting]. Its effect is probably significantly less than a good headbutt - which is equally as savage - but the fact it is something we are supposed to leave behind in our infancy adds an element of outrageous surprise. It is also sneaky and underhand."

Another wrote, with an intellectual flourish: "We perceive it as animalistic behaviour that taps into a primal fear of being attacked, whereas other kinds of physical assault carry a vaguely martial and more human connotation."

Yet another frend felt biting was perhaps worse than other types of foul play because "there is no chance, or at least only a minute chance, of it being accidental".

"There are obvious cases of deliberate stud-raking, but there is often a grey area which leaves you thinking it could be partly deliberate or mostly accidental, or somewhere in between. A bite is a bite, pure, simple, and thought through."

I agree that a footballer who bites an opponent should be punished. But it also seems that we react to biting in a way that is not entirely rational. We feel some sort of instinctive disgust that we struggle to explain.

Luis Suarez is an amazing footballer.

As an Arsenal fan, and an Englishman, he has caused me no end of pain with his goals. He's also done some fairly villianous things in his time. But is biting really the worst of them?

Personally I find it easier to forgive him for the occasional chomp than for dancing with glee when Ghana missed that last-minute penalty at the previous World Cup ... but maybe that's just me.