Graham Kelly: Ferdinand made the fall guy for FA's sloppy system

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The Independent Football

The Football Association believes the commission which suspended Rio Ferdinand for eight months for missing a drugs test struck a welcome blow against the arrogance of the superpower clubs and sounded a timely warning to wealthy young players, who by their abandonment of personal boundaries were threatening to alienate the game's supporters.

The FA chief executive, Mark Palios, was pleased with the result, which was widely praised, and doubted whether there would be similar offences in the future. Manchester United have now received the full report of the hearing and are considering whether Ferdinand should appeal.

The implications of their decision are enormous, not just for football, but for the entire sporting world in Olympic year. The overriding importance of the doping issue to the International Olympic Committee is that no high-profile sportsman must ever succeed in beating the rap, thereby exposing it to multiple legal actions, billions of dollars' worth of punitive damages and certain bankruptcy.

Hence the critical need for the World Anti-Doping Agency, the IOC's anti-doping arm, to harmonise the thousands of anti-doping regulations into one common code, with one common list of prohibited substances, one common pseudo-legal set of hearing procedures - which sit, to use their own words, "outside criminal proceedings and employment matters" - and one common tally of punishments, all of which is as impregnable as the IOC and Wada can make it.

Wada has been fighting four cases through various proxies: those of the athletes Kelli White and Jerome Young through the USA Track and Field, Dwain Chambers through UK Athletics and Rio Ferdinand through the FA. Recently, too, it has become involved in the tennis nandrolone cases, where Greg Rusedski's lawyer, Mark Gay - of Denton Wilde Sapte, who prosecuted Ferdinand on behalf of the FA - is now firing massive broadsides at the ATP Tour, who, I predict, will make the swiftest about-turn since Dick Whittington.

Brian Mikkelsen, a Wada board member from Denmark, has called for Ferdinand's case to be referred to the Court for Arbitration in Sport with a view to his suspension being increased to two years. The vital distinction for Wada to grasp is that, unlike the three sprinters, who are individuals, Ferdinand has the support of a worldwide, brand-recognised billion-dollar capitalised plc and a powerful players' association.

Let me say right now that I believe drug abuse is a scourge in society and I do not condone the use of unauthorised drugs in sport. Ferdinand committed a serious breach of the rules to miss his test and the England players who turn up to meet FA officials today to discuss "criteria" for selection should be firmly told that there are times when overriding decisions have to be taken in the wider interests of the game that provides them with their fabulous lifestyles.

However, that should not mean that they forfeit the right to justice and fair play which the president of Fifa, Sepp Blatter, makes so much of. This is where Ferdinand's grounds for appeal come in. First, the spectre of Blatter hung over the proceedings, with his constant exhortations for tough action against the player and his absurd wailing about an unclean game. If you find yourself in court, you do not expect the Lord Chancellor to comment on your case in the press beforehand. Now Blatter is saying Ferdinand will become a textbook case!

Second, great play was made of what happens in other sports when demanding that the FA "make an example of" Ferdinand. But the difficulty in this case, apart from determining what caused the player to panic and so many differing tales to be spun, arises from the fact that there were no easily accessible FA rules on collection of out-of-competition samples. How can anyone suggest that an eight-month ban, including the European Championship, is fair, when the FA has admitted the chaperoning needs tightening?

Third, is it equitable that Ferdinand bears full responsibility for a sloppy system which contained no official notification by the doping control officer, as other sports do, and no form of acknowledgement by the player?

Fourth, under UK Sport regulations, the doping control officer is required to stay at the location specified by the athlete for two hours. The FA is only now drawing up revised procedures to include this two-hour stipulation.

Rather than attempt to shore up a system that dishes out such manifestly disproportionate sentences for errors of judgement, the FA should hammer out, in partnership with the Professional Footballers' Association and the medical profession, an anti-cheat manifesto of their own, one that specifically excludes the IOC and Wada, as the Jockey Club does, but includes a comprehensive section on the desirability of regular, independent medical check-ups to assess the players' "fitness to compete" at the highest level. This positive move would protect the players and the game.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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