Uruguay's President Jose Mujica weighed into the global controversy over footballer Luis Suarez on Wednesday, saying it was unfair to judge him retrospectively for biting an Italian player when other incidents went unreviewed.
"We didn't choose him to be a philosopher, or a mechanic, or to have good manners - he's a great player," said Mujica, echoing the protective attitude towards the brilliant but volatile striker felt around his homeland. "I didn't see him bite anyone. But they sure can bash each other with kicks and chops," he added to reporters.
Suarez, one of the world's best forwards whose team is in the last 16 at the World Cup, is awaiting global soccer body FIFA's judgement on Tuesday's incident when TV footage showed his mouth on the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. The Liverpool player has been punished twice in the past for biting, and also for racism. He earned notoriety at the last World Cup for a handball on the line against Ghana, denying the Africans a certain goal and spot in the semi-finals.
Many Uruguayans believe the global reaction against him, though, is over-the-top and hypocritical. "In football, I was taught that you obey what the referee says," Mujica said. "If we're going to take decisions in football based on what TV says, then there are loads of penalties and handballs you'd have to give that weren't given, so bad luck."
Uruguay captain Diego Lugano, at a news conference in the Brazilian city of Natal after a training session, was equally protective of Suarez and tackled one English journalist head on. "It's clear that Uruguay's triumph doesn't make you happy, it's obvious on your face," said Lugano. "I understand that the figure of Suarez sells because he's very charismatic ... I'm calm because I know that Luis will pick himself up and is going to have success in the World Cup. That's what people fear. They're right to fear that."
(Additional reporting by Malena Castaldi; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne)