Motive is always considered in deciding guilt

The Charge

Rio Ferdinand's guilt in missing a drugs test is not in dispute. He missed the test. He is guilty of a breach of the anti-doping regulations. The only considerations are motive and the severity of the punishment.

If Ferdinand is judged to have deliberately missed his test, there is no reason why he should not face a two-year ban. That is the standard punishment for athletes in most sports who have been deemed guilty of such wilful deceptiveness. The reason for that deceptiveness is immaterial, whether the athletes are actual drugs cheats trying to escape detection or whether they simply had an aversion to peeing in front of an observer on that specific occasion.

If, however, Ferdinand is adjudged to have missed his test due to genuine, demonstrable forgetfulness, his legal team will argue that a fine is more in keeping with his offence. Contrary to many reports, missed drugs tests in most sports are not automatically punished by long, mandatory bans. They can be handled like that but the specific reason for missing a test is always considered.

Under the World Anti-Doping Agency's guidelines, athletes can theoretically miss three drugs tests before being banned, as long as each missed test is deemed a non-deliberate "no show". Such a situation may arise, for example, when an athlete is being tested at random, out of competition, and the tester cannot physically find the testee, who may innocently have been elsewhere.

Ferdinand's missed test did not occur in such circumstances. He had been told he was due to be tested at a specific time and place and failed to show up. His intent at the moment he left the training ground becomes ever more critical.

Missed drugs tests are often - but not always - deemed as serious as failed tests for one good reason. They raise doubts about motive. With urine testing, an athlete with something to hide can manipulate his or her sample with less than an hour's notice. The most effective way of doing this is by catheterisation, whereby water or "clean" urine is introduced into the bladder by means of a tube. Given more time, and a good pharmacist, an athlete who has taken an illegal substance can also attempt a cover-up with masking agents.

There has been no suggestion that Ferdinand was trying to dodge the testers because he had illegal substances in his system. But neither can that theoretical possibility be ruled out. Missing his test created that possibility. That is why it is being taken so seriously. That is why the Football Association's charge, based on the evidence it has gathered, is for "failure or refusal to take a drugs test".

The inclusion of the word "refusal" indicates that the FA believes there was an element of wilfulness - for whatever reason - in Ferdinand's behaviour. This was not the case when Manchester City's Christian Negouai missed a test earlier this year. His case was treated as a "failure", not a "refusal". The Frenchman still faced a misconduct charge but his excuse of being stuck in traffic was accepted. He escaped with a £2,000 fine.

Sportsmen who have been banned for failing to comply with drugs procedures include the Kenyan runner John Ngugi in 1993 and the then West Bromwich Albion footballer Shane Nicholson in 1997. Ngugi actually refused to give a sample whereas Nicholson ran away when he saw the testers coming. Their bans, for four years and life respectively, were later reduced. But the fact they were handed out in the first place was for wilful non-cooperation, not testing positive. Ferdinand stands accused of the same.