Graham Kelly: FA must repel Caborn's interference on drugs testing

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The Independent Online

"PFA fury at home drug raid powers" blared the back page headline two days before Rio Ferdinand's failed appearance in the doping control room at Manchester United's Carrington training ground. The Professional Footballers' Association chief executive, Gordon Taylor, was railing against reports that Fifa might fall into line with other sports, which conduct unannounced, out-of-competition testing in athletes' homes, should the world governing body of football sign the World Anti-Doping Agency code.

Now that the might of Fifa, in the shape of its medical committee chairman, Michel D'Hooghe, and Wada, in the name of its president, Richard Pound, have both weighed in against Ferdinand, Taylor would be well advised to abandon the England players' spurious claim that their team-mate's confidentiality was breached.

Rather, the PFA chief should quickly join forces with the Football Association's chief executive, Mark Palios, (and indeed Manchester United's solicitor, Maurice Watkins) and make clear their collective stance against harmful drugs, while at the same time using football's muscle to consign to history the pernicious Wada code which perpetuates the International Olympic Committee's unfair concept of strict liability.

The FA's legal adviser was involved in the ruinous Diane Modahl saga, which bankrupted the British Athletic Federation, so there should be no danger of the FA being railroaded into any harsh sanction against Ferdinand, if its case is proved. What does the lawyer think about this extract from the Wada code, "Anti-doping rules are not intended to be limited by the requirements and legal standards applicable to employment matters"?

The whole matter of football signing up to Wada is much bigger than the Ferdinand case, though it is no doubt timely, and could, or should, call into question the sport's participation in the Olympic Games. When the Wada code was adopted at a conference in Copenhagen last March, Fifa was concerned about some of the more draconian measures as they might apply to youth players, and declined to sign.

The minister for sport, Richard Caborn, expressed no such fears, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the code and, as a signatory, is committed to ensuring, in its words, "that all participants and member associations are informed of and agree to be bound by anti-doping rules of the relevant anti-doping organisations".

Perhaps it was Caborn's not-so-gentle introductory meeting with Palios shortly after the FA's new man took office that led to Taylor's concern about home raids. One wonders how the politicians who spout about the need for footballers to act as role models would react if the police had authority to disrupt their smart dinner parties with a demand that they produce an immediate urine sample.

Wada claims that a consensus of sports people is backing its code, but that amounts to deception when hardly a dozen active athletes were able to wade through the mountains of paper to be able to comment. There is much myth and misunderstanding about drugs in sport, and not a little mischief in its coverage.

It is for the football authorities to devise and implement suitably robust procedures to stop players using substances which might conceivably enhance their performance, or cause them to play in a manner dangerous to themselves or their fellow professionals. Incidentally, the distinguished former Olympics athletics coach, Wilf Paish, says he knows of no additive which can enhance a footballer's game.

Rather in the manner of a car driver turning on the ignition, a player at kick-off owes a duty of care to other users. Outside that, what he does in his own leisure time is a matter for his own conscience, the law and the various contracts he has entered into, for example, with his club, his wife, whomever he likes.

No one should condone any form of cheating in sport, much less one which may involve harm to health as well as ethics, but the Government is spending vast amounts of taxpayers' money on dubious attempts at moral and social engineering by subsidising drugs tests in football, which has the money - but not universally the will, sadly - to police itself.

The game for a long time displayed a cavalier attitude to alcohol and only began to come to its senses after too many careers were needlessly blighted. If, as PFA-backed surveys would have us believe, social drugs play a part in the lives of a significant number of players, that is their problem - and the police's if the law is being broken.

But the question of them being drug-free while they are working is paramount, and to this end everyone in football should be working towards a course of action that delivers a strict and fair testing regime for all. Funded by football, not Mr Caborn's nanny state, which should be concentrating UK Sport's scarce resources in more deserving areas.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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