Fifa keeps options open on drug bans

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The Independent Online

The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, yesterday reiterated that players who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs will not necessarily face an automatic two-year suspension, as occurs in track and field and other sports, but again took a swipe at the way Rio Ferdinand's case was handled by the Football Association.

Speaking after a meeting of the executive committe of world football's governing in London, Blatter said every doping case in professional football had to be taken on its merits and stressed that Fifa had struck an agreement with the anti-doping agency, WADA, opting out of a blanket two-year ban for drug offenders.

The agreement is due to be signed in May and Blatter said it was a critical step in the fight against drugs. "I'm not going to talk again about the Ferdinand case because it is exactly the type of case that was dealt with wrongly," Blatter said. "But every player, even in a delicate situation, has the right to be assessed properly. It's not correct from the human rights standpoint to put everyone in the same basket."

Blatter also called on Arsenal and Manchester United to release their French and Brazilian players for a prestige international on 22 May, two days before the FA Cup final.

The France-Brazil friendly in Paris marks the highlight of Fifa's centenary celebrations and could potentially involve up to six Arsenal players and three from United having to miss the build-up to Cardiff before rushing back if either or both of them reach the Cup final.

Blatter said neither club would be disciplined if players such as Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Mikaël Silvestre are withdrawn from the Paris fixture, but urged them to "respect Fifa's centenary which does not happen every year".

European clubs are certain to be antagonised by yesterday's other announcement, the resumption of the controversial Club World championship, scrapped four years ago through lack of marketing and sponsorship, but now revived as a six-team event in December next year featuring the champions of each confederation.

Over 100 European clubs have already expressed their opposition to the prospect of the Champions' League winner being forced to fly half-way round the world for an eight-day tournament in mid-season. But Blatter said the new competition would go ahead "in the spirit of solidarity" and, just to ruib salt in the wound, declared that Fifa would refuse to pay any compensation to those taking part.

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