Ferdinand loses appeal as FA ban is upheld

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The Independent Football

Rio Ferdinand was last night considering his options after an independent disciplinary panel dismissed his attempt either to overturn or reduce his eight-month suspension for failing to take a drugs test in September.

Rio Ferdinand was last night considering his options after an independent disciplinary panel dismissed his attempt either to overturn or reduce his eight-month suspension for failing to take a drugs test in September.

The three-man panel, chaired by Ian Mill, QC, and including Geoff Thompson, the chairman of the Football Association, and Roger Burden, an FA vice-chairman, also dismissed the FA's request that the ban be increased to a year in line with the guidelines of Fifa, the world governing body.

The only other consolation for Ferdinand is that the appeals panel, which spent four hours taking evidence at the Radisson Hotel, Heathrow, and three more deliberating the verdict, "discounted any possibility" that his failure to take the test was "drug-related". This should at least appease his sponsors.

In a brief statement Maurice Watkins, a member of Manchester United's board and a solicitor who was in Ferdinand's defence team, said: "Rio is naturally very disappointed as we believe the suspension is unduly harsh and unprecedented. That remains his view." Alongside him Ferdinand, dressed in sombre black offset by an elaborate cornrow hairstyle, was silent.

Having exhausted the appeals procedure within the game Ferdinand's only remaining avenues are an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, or the civil courts, both English and European.

The likelihood is that Ferdinand, who tomorrow completes the second month of his punishment, will now accept it. The FA has no interest in further pursuing the matter. Their failed attempt to extend the ban should be enough to satisfy the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, who had been critical of the way the case was handled and had threatened to intervene.

Should the ban thus stand, Ferdinand will not return to competitive football until 20 September. The 25-year-old defender will miss the rest of the current season and the first month of the next; the third qualifying round for the Champions' League, which United appear likely to be involved in, and the first group match if they qualify; the European Championship and England's World Cup qualifiers in Austria and Poland. The first England international he will be available for is the home match against Wales, and his club team-mate Ryan Giggs, on 9 October.

To many this punishment, which United initially described as "savage", is harsh and Ferdinand feels himself to be a scapegoat. Football, previously, had not taken the drugs issue seriously. However, there was a growing feeling within the game, partly fuelled by pressure from external agencies, that it was time it did.

The growing demands on players' athleticism, which had only partly been met by the increased, and controversial, usage of supplements, made drug cheating more tempting. Positive tests were rising, especially on the Continent where, if the punishments were too lenient, the testing at least seemed more widespread.

Adding to this new mood was the appointment of a hardline FA chief executive, Mark Palios. It was a bad time for anyone to miss a test, especially a high-profile player such as Ferdinand.

It was back on 23 September that Ferdinand failed to take a test at Carrington, Manchester United's training ground. He was eventually charged on 29 October, having been omitted from England's European Championship qualifier in Istanbul in the interim, a decision that brought the England squad to the brink of a strike. He was found guilty, and banned for eight months, on 19 December and finally began his ban, having announced his intention to appeal, on 20 January.

Since then Manchester United's defence has imploded, along with their Premiership and Champions' League ambitions. Sir Alex Ferguson must now decide whether he ought to sign an experienced central defender, both as cover for the opening period of next season, and as Ferdinand's potential partner in the medium term.

Sven Goran Eriksson, meanwhile, must hope John Terry continues his improvement, Sol Campbell overcomes his niggling muscular injury, and Jonathan Woodgate regains fitness in time to show the England coach that his potential will translate into performance.

For Ferdinand a long summer beckons. He admitted, in his paid-for newspaper column, that only "the thought that I could still play for United and go to the European Championship has driven me in training."

He added: "Without that, I would have found it a lot more difficult. As long as there is hope, I have to train in the belief the ban will be cut. I've worked hard, maybe even harder than usual, believing there is light at the end of the tunnel and that things will come right in the end."

They did not and it could get worse. United must warn Ferdinand that, wherever he goes to get over his disappointment, he will be noticed. Ferdinand has many qualities, and does much for good causes, but he has been known to let the cornrows down from time to time. With United continuing to pay his huge wages, even an innocent night out could end in lurid headlines.

Ferdinand: The Key Moments

October 2003: Reported to Football Association after failing to take a drugs test on 23 September. Passes routine official FA test 36 hours.

5 October: Sven Goran Eriksson delays naming England squad for decisive European Championship qualifier against Turkey as FA discusses the matter.

6 October: Second postponement of England squad announcement.

7 October: Omitted from England squad and asked to attend an interview on 13 October to explain his failure to attend the original drugs test.

29 October: Charged with misconduct by the FA for his failure to take the drugs test .

19 December: Banned for eight months and fined £50,000.

20 January 2004: Begins suspension, launches appeal.

18 March: Commission rejects appeal, leaving suspension unchanged at eight months.