BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Diego Maradona blasted FIFA’s ban on Uruguay striker Luis Suarez as “criminal” and said world soccer’s governing body might as well handcuff the striker and lock him up in Guantanamo prison.
“Who did Suarez kill?” Maradona said during his soccer commentary programme broadcast on Venezuela’s Telesur and Argentine public television on Thursday night.
“This is football, this is contact,” the Argentine legend said. “They may as well handcuff him and bring him to Guantanamo directly.”
The controversial U.S. prison in Cuba, opened during the Bush administration, is heavily criticized by human rights groups for indefinite imprisonment of many detainees without charge or trial.
Temperamental 1986 World Cup winner Maradona, known for his flamboyant declarations, is echoing outrage in Uruguay, where many are fuming at a ban they deem exaggerated, hypocritical or outright biased.
Many abroad, however, were horrified by brilliant but volatile Suarez’s biting of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on Tuesday.
Suarez was given longest sanction imposed at a World Cup by soccer’s governing body on Thursday, suspended from all football-related activity for four months and banned for nine international matches.
But Maradona, who like Suarez emerged from a poor background to rise to global fame, fervently defended “Luisito” throughout the programme, at the end even unveiling a T-shirt with “We’re with you Luisito” scrawled on the front.
“If he made a mistake, fine, they should punish him, but they shouldn’t exaggerate, they shouldn’t be moralistic,” said Maradona, who is close to Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro.
Leftist Uruguayan president Jose Mujica also phoned in to the programme, blasting what he saw as a move to sideline Uruguay from the tournament where many European heavyweights have bit the dust.
“We kicked out Italy, we kicked out England, how much money was lost there?,” said Mujica, a 79 year-old former guerrilla. “We’re Uruguay, we’re very little. It was cheap (for them to do).”
The European establishment could not understand Suarez’s tough street style, Mujica and Maradona opined.
“Incredible players are often born here in the heart of poverty,” Mujica said. “They don’t understand him because they don’t want to and because they were born in another society with other resources.”
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by John O'Brien