FA set up inquiry into England cocaine claims

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The Independent Football

The Football Association will begin an inquiry tomorrow morning after being given the names of five current Premiership players - four of them current or former England internationals - alleged to have taken cocaine. If found guilty, the players could be banned for two years.

The names were originally passed to a Sun journalist by Leon Jeanne, 22, a former Queen's Park Rangers and Cardiff player whose career was ruined by the drug. He was cleared last week of being part of a drugs-supply ring in Cardiff. The paper handed the names to UK Sport, who have contacted the FA and said that "appropriate action will be taken". That is taken to mean the players will be targeted for tests. But it is not clear how long ago the alleged incidents took place and, having now been warned, those concerned are unlikely to be found positive. In the current climate, however, with UK Sport, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Government all urging football to crack down on any suggestion of either recreational or performance-enhancing drugs use, the case has to be treated seriously.

An FA official said the report would be carefully studied, and emphasised that it was important that the players' confidentiality should be preserved. That was a bone of contention with the Professional Footballers' Association and Manchester United when Rio Ferdinand failed to take his drugs test in September. He should have remained anonymous, but the FA effectively ensured his name would come out by excluding him from the England squad.

United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who claimed Ferdinand had been "hung out to dry", could now find himself in trouble for his remarks that Arsenal appeared to have "done a deal" over the various charges arising out of their game at Old Trafford six weeks ago. The suggestion that they would plead guilty in return for more lenient treatment was aired in newspapers, but Ferguson made sure he mentioned the allegation in all the interviews he gave before United's match at home to Portsmouth yesterday.

The FA's head of communications, Adrian Bevington, said: "The FA is looking closely at the comments attributed to Alex Ferguson. We don't cut deals, and the commission that hears the evidence is an independent commission made up of disciplinary individuals with no involvement in the process of collating the evidence and presenting the case. They hear or see the evidence for the very first time when they sit on the commission. It's like a court of law."