Michele Verroken: Rio and Mutu: how the game can win on penalties

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The Independent Football

The Football Association's doping control programme has come a long way since 1998, when I first negotiated the introduction of voluntary testing of players with Graham Kelly, the then chief executive. It still has further to go before the issue of drugs in football is properly addressed. With so many vested interests in the business of sport - and in football in particular - we need a grown- up debate to bring together the polarised interests. Chelsea and Adrian Mutu are victims of this work in progress.

Chelsea played by the rules, calling the FA in to target-test a player they were suspicious of. Whether or not the club originally identified the problem through private screening - with the player's consent, one hopes - we may never know.

The FA did their tests, found a prohibited substance and started the disciplinary process; the club implemented the conditions of their employment and terminated Mutu's contract; the FA suspended him for seven months. These actions are an inevitable consequence of precedents already set. When Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand missed a test he received an eight-month suspension; and when the former Chelsea player Mark Bosnich tested positive and received a nine-month suspension he also had his contractterminated by the club.

The cry goes up: but Rio did not even fail a test, he did not take a banned substance, his contract was not terminated, and he remained on full pay during the suspension period. The response? We have no proof he did not take a banned substance, because he did not take the test.

The dilemma for the FA is obvious: if you get eight months for missing a test, what punishment should be applied for taking a test and failing it? Longer than eight months would imply that missing the test is a better option than taking the test. Honesty needs to be rewarded in some way; we want players to be tested. Mutu's seven-month suspension is no surprise; the FA are caught between the precedents of rock and a hard place, Chelsea likewise.

Chelsea have been vilified by some for terminating Mutu's contract, despite having a precedent set with a previous drug offence involving Bosnich. The issue of employment contracts is clearly one for football clubs as businesses employing players.

Hindsight teaches us that a missed test needs to be penalised severely, and this should also apply to those who assist a player's escape from the testers. Otherwise, calculating the difference between seven or nine months' suspension could become the new gamble, replacing the top one of getting a match suspension when you are unfit through injury.

Switching attention to the FA disciplinary process, could the substance be classified as a social drug, with treatment and rehabilitation an alternative rather than an addition to the minimum six-month suspension for doping? I am very supportive of rehabilitation, although I do not believe it is an alternative to suspension.

The player should be focused upon the rehabilitation process. Rehabilitation costs are usually shared between the FA, the PFA and the club, not a huge responsibility but an irritant to the club's finances if the player has not played by their rules.

Enter the debate about whether cocaine enhances sporting performance or not. The new era of regulation, the World Anti-Doping Code, puts the onus on the player to show that his use of the prohibited substance was "not intended to improve sporting performance". Mutu at first explained he was attempting to improve his sexual performance, although it is unclear whether any evidence was presented to support this claim. Perhaps, as part of the education process he will now go through, he will be advised that Viagra is a permitted substance in all sports, in and out of competition, and will not make that mistake again.

Acting responsibly in football is a risky strategy; Chelsea could not allow any player with a known drugs problem to continue to play. A tackle on another player could lead to serious injury, and there are few insurance policies that cover reckless behaviour under the influence of a controlled substance (Class A, Misuse of Drugs Act, no less). The financial liability for a club is something the boardroom is concerned about. Balancing the loss of reputation if you don't do something about a drugs problem with the criticism when you do is tough.

If the club are expected to pay players through suspension and rehabilitation, maybe even meet ongoing costs of rehabilitation when they do not have any control over how long it might be, this will challenge the accountant. Affordable in the Premiership, but not elsewhere.

The arguments around the Rio drug-test situation would make a great question for a GCSE paper: "What are the advantages and disadvantages of missing a drugs test?" Mutu's case takes us to A-level standard: "Is it better to admit to a drugs problem before or after failing a test, and what actions should clubs take to protect their investments?"

If clubs want control over their finances, they may soon be making changes to players' contracts so that they can pursue lost causes. Alternatively, they may start introducing money-back guarantees at transfer. Perhaps football agents should share this responsibility.

Michele Verroken is the former director of ethics and anti-doping at UK Sport and is now an independent consultant on sport and integrity matters

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