The FIFA disciplinary committee investigating Uruguay striker Luis Suarez for apparently biting an opponent during a World Cup match Tuesday has broad authority to consider any evidence, including Suarez's two past biting incidents, and determine any punishment. (Also read: Suarez's sponsorship deal under review)
The committee opened disciplinary hearings against Suarez late Tuesday, only hours after he appeared to bite Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on the left shoulder late in their match. It is expected to issue a decision before Saturday, when Uruguay will play Colombia in a knockout round match. (Read: FIFA tight-lipped on possible Suarez sanctions)
Suarez and Uruguay's federation have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to present their position on the matter and any evidence. In the meantime, FIFA said, the committee is gathering match reports, witness statements and video of the incident.
"The disciplinary committee fully understands the urgency of the matter," a FIFA spokeswoman, Delia Fischer, said. "It is working to get and assess all evidence as early as possible, particularly given the fact that Uruguay is still in the tournament." (Related: Twitter sinks teeth into Suarez after World Cup 'bite')
FIFA's disciplinary committee is led by a Swiss, Claudio Sulser, and lists 19 members on FIFA's website, though not all take part in each case. Countries large and small are represented on the panel, from the Cook Islands and Tonga to Sweden and Australia. One member, the vice president of U.S. Soccer, Mike Edwards, in an interview with a New Mexico newspaper last week, said that he would not arrive in Brazil until the knockout rounds, so it was unclear whether he would take part in the Suarez investigation.
Fischer declined to name the committee members who would decide the case, with the exception of Sulser, the chairman, or even say how many would be part of the discussions. But she emphasized that the disciplinary committee would determine the scope of its investigation and the duration of any potential penalties. That means it can take into account two previous biting incidents in Suarez's club career, any evidence the Italians choose to present and video of the incident, which apparently went unseen by the match referee. (Bite controversy: Suarez's tough childhood to blame, says sports psychologist)
"It's really at the discretion of the disciplinary committee what they deem relevant," Fischer said, adding that the length of any ban is solely up to the committee.
Suarez is charged with breaches of two articles of FIFA's disciplinary code, Articles 47 and 58. The first relates to violent conduct and "serious foul play," and the second covers unsportsmanlike conduct. His potential punishment ranges from nothing if he is cleared, which seems unlikely, to as much as a two-year suspension, the highest allowed under FIFA's disciplinary code.
FIFA also could not say if any punishment would be limited to Suarez's international matches with Uruguay, or if it might be extended to his play for his club, Liverpool, in England's Premier League. FIFA's ethics committee, for example, recently barred the German star Franz Beckenbauer from "all soccer activities" in an unrelated case, and that is also in the disciplinary committee's toolbox.
The incident took place in the 79th minute of Uruguay's 1-0 win Tuesday. Suarez became entangled with Chiellini in the penalty area and then appeared to bite him on the left shoulder. The referee called a foul on Suarez for the contact, but did not appear to see the bite, even though Chiellini pulled aside the collar of his jersey to reveal what appeared to be teeth marks in his skin.
If he is found to have bitten Chiellini, Suarez will face his third suspension in four years for biting an opposing player in a game. He was suspended for seven games by the Dutch league in 2010 and for 10 games by England's Premier League in 2013.
His next ban could be much longer, or merely long enough to prevent him from appearing in this World Cup. Uruguay has, at most, four games left in Brazil. It reached the semifinals in 2010.
Suarez can be expected to fight any ban, just as he argued for leniency in his previous biting cases. But not all suspensions carry the right of appeal: Under Article 118 of the disciplinary code, a suspension for fewer than three matches or of up to two months cannot be appealed.
Uruguay's coach, Oscar Tabarez, angrily defended Suarez after the game, saying that if he had bitten Chiellini "the referee had to have seen it" and that, in any case, the World Cup was no place for "cheap morality."
"If we believe people are attacking him, as has happened in this news conference, then we're going to defend him," he said.