BELGRADE, SERBIA - DECEMBER 11: Edinson Cavani of Paris Saint-Germain celebrates after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Red Star Belgrade and Paris Saint-Germain at Rajko Mitic Stadium on December 11, 2018 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Edinson Cavani. Was It A Case Of Racism?

Why this matters

Manchester United’s Cavani banned for three games for racial post. Cavani was also fined $136,500 and ordered to complete face-to-face education after admitting to breaching FA’s rules.

On December 31, 2020, the Uruguayan and Manchester United player, Edinson Cavani, was  suspended for three games and fined100.000 pounds after the English Football Association (FA) interpreted a comment that the player posted on social media as “insulting, abusive and improper.” According to FA rules – specifically Rules E3.1 and E3.2 – the comment was an “aggravated breach” as “it included reference, whether express or implied, to color and/or race and/or ethnic origin”. The sanction also included mandatory face-to-face education.   

The ban comes after Cavani scored two goals against Southampton on November 29, 2020. On that day, a friend congratulated the player for his performance to which he replied by saying “gracias negrito,” a term that has racist connotations in the UK, but in South America, it is commonly used as an affectionate greeting. Following his post, Cavani deleted the social media post as he was informed that it could be interpreted differently than he intended. He also issued an apology stating that the message was intended as an affectionate greeting to a friend, thanking him for his congratulations after the game and that the last thing he wanted was to cause offense. He also stated that he is completely opposed to racism.  

Cavani’s club, Manchester United, also released a statement following the FA decision on December 31, 2020, saying that the player chose not to contest the charge, out of respect for and solidarity with the FA and the fight against racism in football. The club acknowledged that the independent Regulatory Commission was required to impose a minimum three-game suspension. It also mentioned that the club trusts that the independent Regulatory Commission will make it clear in its written reasons that Edinson Cavani is not a racist, nor was there any racist intent in relation to his post.”

Several football-related organizations such as the Uruguayan Players Union have raised their voices to support Edinson Cavani. In a statement published on January 4, 2021, the Union described the English FA decision as a “true discriminatory act, which is completely reprehensible and against Uruguayan culture”. They added that, far from condemning racism, the English Football Association has itself committed a discriminatory act against the culture and way of life of the Uruguayan people. CONMEBOL, which is the highest South American Football authority, also criticized the decision while expressing solidarity with Cavani and stating that the sanction clearly does not consider the cultural characteristics and the use of certain terms in the everyday life speech of Uruguay. CONMEBOL added that any judgment should be made first and foremost on the basis of “the cultural peculiarities of each player and of each country”. They also stated that the South American football authority “condemns and always will condemn any demonstration of racism, but the specific case for which Cavani was sanctioned does not constitute one of them.”

Similarly, the National Academy of Letters of Uruguay released a statement rejecting the decision made by the English Football Association, assuring that the FA showed “poverty of cultural and linguistic knowledge”. The Academy explained that “The English Football Association has committed a serious injustice with the Uruguayan sportsman [...] and has shown its ignorance and error in ruling on the use of language, and in particular Spanish, without noting all its complexities and contexts.” The National Academy of Letters of Uruguay said that, “in the context in which it was written, the only value that can be given to negrito – particularly because of the diminutive use – is affectionate.”

Andreas Beck Holm, reported the English FA to anti-racist football organization KickItOut stating that “Edinson Cavani is a foreign worker who is being punished for his inadequate mastery of the English language and for his equally limited understanding of British social rules.” Holm – who is a professor in the Department of Culture and Society at Aarhus University– said it is a case of cultural racism that is closely connected with ethnocentrism.”

Lastly, it is important to highlight that, on the written submissions, the FA concluded that: “It was satisfied that there was no intent on the part of the Player to be discriminatory or offensive in any way. The Commission were satisfied that the Player wrote his reply in affectionate appreciation of a message from his Uruguayan friend and that it was not designed or intended to be racist or offensive either to his friend or others reading the content of the Instagram post”.

Despite the above-mentioned reasoning, Edinson Cavani’s suspension and fine were sustained by the FA.