Failure to take test is deemed positive

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Stringent penalties have been handed out in recent years to sportsmen who have failed to comply with drugs testing procedures, which is what Rio Ferdinand stands accused of doing on 23 September.

Those penalties include a four-year ban from athletics for the Kenyan runner John Ngugi in 1993, after he refused an out-of-competition test, and a life ban from football for the West Bromwich Albion defender Shane Nicholson after he ran away when the testers came calling at training in 1997. Both those bans were later shortened but showed the gravity of failing to take a test.

It is important to distinguish between failing to comply with procedures and refusing to take a test. Ngugi, for example, refused his test. Nicholson failed to take his test because he ran away.

Ferdinand maintains that he did not refuse his test. None the less, he failed to take it when he should have done. In the eyes of the drugs testers, the result is the same.

"Each refused case is treated as a positive finding," a spokesman for UK Sport, which oversees drugs testing in Britain, said yesterday. A failure to take a test is also treated in the same way by UK Sport. "When this [Ferdinand] incident appears in our next report, it will be reported as a refusal to take a test," he said. "We went to do it. [Ferdinand] was notified. And it did not happen."

Ngugi's test did not happen because the athlete, an Olympic 5,000 metres gold medallist in 1988 and a five-times cross country world champion, refused to provide a sample to doping officers from athletics's world governing body.

They arrived, unannounced, at his home in Kenya in February 1993. They were not accompanied by officials known to Ngugi, who said he had not been informed by the authorities that such a test might be possible. In his defence, Ngugi said that he had been unhappy discussing such personal matters as his urine with strangers and that is why he refused to give a sample.

Ngugi was handed a four-year ban for refusing to take the test, which was the standard punishment at the time. However, the length of such bans was in the process of being shortened from four years to two years and Ngugi's ban was eventually lifted after 27 months.

Nicholson's failure to take his test followed a previous failed test. Hence he was dealt with harshly. His life ban was rescinded after he agreed to undergo rehabilitation for drug and alcohol problems. He was given "one last chance" at Chesterfield in 1998, turned his life around, and has since played for Stockport, Sheffield United and, currently, Tranmere Rovers.

According to UK sport, 15 sportsmen - a footballer in Wales, an athlete, a cricketer, eight powerlifters, a rugby union player and three weightlifters - refused drugs tests in 2002-03. Aside from the athlete (now retired) and the cricketer (a triallist) they were all banned or suspended, for between a year and life, depending on previous offences.

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