FIFA Lifts Messi's Four-Match Ban for Insulting a Referee

Messi would have missed three other qualifiers, and would have only returned for their final qualifier against Ecuador in October.
May 5, 2017, 3:07pm
Messi after another uncomfortable meeting with Chile (the 2016 Copa America). Photo by Brad Penner—USA Today

During Argentina's match against Chile back in March, Lionel Messi was accused of insulting a linesman and handed a four-match ban and a $10,000 fine. On Friday, however, FIFA announced that it was overturning those sanctions after the Argentinian Football Association successfully appealed the decision. Now Messi can play in Argentina's remaining World Cup qualifiers.

"Despite the fact that the Fifa Appeal Committee considered Lionel Messi's behaviour as reproachable, the former concluded that the evidence available was not sufficient to establish to the appropriate standard," FIFA said in a statement, while also making sure to add, "The Appeal Committee nevertheless underlines the importance of always showing respect to the match officials, stressing that such a principle is essential in football and any unsporting conduct that may be contrary to the principles of fair play cannot be accepted."

Messi was reported to have said, in translation, "Fuck off, your mother's cunt," which, you know, is pretty bad.

While FIFA rules state that there should be a ban for "at least four matches for unsporting conduct toward a match official," the rule is not so frequently enforced. Given that this particular incident involved a high-profile player, it's possible that FIFA was trying to send a message. On the other hand, bans in international play can lead to prolonged absences across several months, removing players from crucial games, and Messi is one of the highest-selling attractions in international football. His suspension, had it been upheld, would have coincided with four World Cup qualifiers, and he would have only been able to return for Argentina's final qualifier against Ecuador in October.

Messi already served part of his four-game ban when Argentina played Bolivia five days after the infraction; the team registered an unusual loss, 2-0. In the wake of his successful appeal, the 29-year-old Argentine is set to return against Uruguay on August 31.