RIO DE JANEIRO - Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said on Friday that Luis Suarez had been made a "scapegoat" for biting an opponent at the World Cup, lashing out at the "excessive severity" of his four-month ban.
"Many times you forget that the scapegoat is a person, who has rights," said Tabarez, who read out a pre-prepared statement during a press conference ahead of Uruguay's last-16 game against Colombia on Saturday.
"In this specific case of Luis Suarez, despite the faults he may have committed, he has made significant contributions to football from the pitch." Tabarez, who refused to take questions from journalists, also claimed the punishment was "more focused on the opinions of the media".
Suarez was handed a nine-game international ban and suspended from all football-related activity for four months by FIFA on Thursday after sinking his teeth into the left shoulder of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini during a Group D game in Natal on Tuesday.
Tabarez was given a round of applause by Uruguayan journalists after reading his statement during the press conference at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium.
He also announced that he has decided to step down from his position on FIFA's technical study group and strategic committee over the affair.
It is the third time that Suarez has been banned for biting an opponent, after previous incidents with Ajax and his current club, Liverpool.
Uruguay captain Diego Lugano claimed on Wednesday that Suarez had been unfairly targeted by the British media and Tabarez echoed the centre-back's words.
'All spoke English'
"After we saw the images (of the incident), we saw that there was a possibility that the participants in that act - Giorgio Chiellini, the Italian footballer, and Luis Suarez - would both be punished," said the 67-year-old.
"But we never thought we would learn what we found out about the details of the decision reached, which was of an excessive severity.
"And a decision which obviously is much more focused on the opinions of the media, who took that as the only topic of the (post-match) press conference.
"I don't know what nationality they were, but they all spoke English." Tabarez also alleged that Suarez had been the victim of "media attacks" and "harassments", which had "concentrated above all on his background".
He added: "On the basis of these very exaggerated and severe decisions, are we to avoid all excesses, all aggressions?
"I sincerely doubt it, because in this tournament, before and after the Suarez-Chiellini episode, we've seen things measured with a completely different scale.
"I don't think one shouldn't punish or sanction, but always, always between human beings, one must always give an opportunity to one who commits a mistake. That's why I don't agree with the theory of a scapegoat." Tabarez concluded his statement by vowing long-term support for Suarez and urging his players to channel their sense of injustice when they take to the pitch against Colombia on Saturday.
"To Luis Suarez the person, who has lived with us and who we know better than anyone else the path he has covered and the one he will go through again, attempting, as someone who starts again, to be better, we let him know he will never be alone in that attempt," Tabarez said.
"To the Uruguayan fans: they, like us, are moved by the resonance of this punishment.
"I want to let them know that we are hurt, but with our outstanding force and more than ever tomorrow (Saturday), we will do our utmost."