Blatter raises threat of United ban over Ferdinand appeal

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The Independent Online

Sentence may have been delivered but the Rio Ferdinand affair rumbled on regardless yesterday delivering its usual diet of threat and bluster, plea and condemnation.

After Ferdinand's club manager, Alex Ferguson, suggested that Manchester United would take their £30m defender's case to the highest court in the land, and then into the European arena, Sepp Blatter, president of Fifa, responded by threatening to ban United from club competition worldwide.

Such a ban would even prevent England from playing matches at Old Trafford, should United be minded to allow them. Ferguson also pondered aloud whether Ferdinand, should he fulfil his ban, would ever resume his England career.

"Rio has the right to go to court to protect his reputation," said Ferguson. "The club would support him if he did. He may also be able to seek damages for the time he has already missed playing for England. Whether he ever plays for his country again, or whether he wants to play for them, is another matter.

Blatter said: "I hear of a threat to go to the civil courts - even to the European courts - but that is strictly prohibited in our rules. If you take that action, the repercussions will be unprecedented." Blatter, who preceded Ferdinand's hearing by threatening to intervene if the judgement appeared lenient, added that Fifa would accept United appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.

Article 59 of Fifa Statute XIII (Disputes) states: "National associations, clubs or club members shall not be permitted to refer disputes with the Federation or other association, clubs or club members to a court of law and they shall agree to submit any disagreement to an arbitration tribunal appointed by common consent."

It adds: "Any club which contravenes the terms outlined above may be sanctioned by being suspended from all international activity (official competitions and friendly matches) in addition to receiving a ban on all international matches (involving national associations and clubs) played in its stadium."

However, there is one caveat: "If the law of a country allows clubs or members to contest in a civil court any decisions pronounced by sports bodies, clubs or club members shall refrain from doing so until all the possibilities of sports jurisdiction within, or under the responsibility of their national association have been exhausted." United will argue by following the FA's appeals process they will have done that.

There is a precedent. Athletic Bilbao have taken court action to defend Carlos Gurpegui, a midfielder who tested positive for nandrolone at the start of last season, in September 2002.

Five months later he received a "cautionary" suspension from Spanish Sports Council. In April that was ratified by the Spanish federation and SSC only to be then lifted by the Spanish Committee for Sporting Discipline [CEDD] three days later while the player attempted to prove he produced the chemical naturally.

Only this November did the CEDD finally impose a two-year ban. Bilbao then went to the Spanish High Court and the ban was lifted earlier this month until the player's appeal is heard. Fifa have not threatened to ban Bilbao.

Blatter has, though, talked of taking action against Boca Juniors and their young striker Carlos Tevez, who went to court to prevent Argentina forcing him to play in the recent under-20s world championship. "He withdrew at the last moment and to make things worse took his case to a local court," said Blatter. "If he does not have a valid reason he could end up playing his football at a disciplinary committee or on the moon." As yet, though, no action has been taken

Uefa, who had previously kept out of the affair, said an eight-month ban was in line with its guidelines. "This type of offence would carry at least a six-month ban so it is in line with what we would expect to happen if the player had failed to take a test during a Uefa competition," said spokesman Rob Faulkner.

Meanwhile Ferdinand's agent, Pini Zahavi, is expected to have discussions with his personal sponsors who include Nike and Ben Sherman. Nike had previously stated their intention to stand by Ferdinand but both companies may now be looking closely at the small print of their contract. "Most sponsorship deals have clauses in them relating to good behaviour and companies have the right to terminate them in the event of bad behaviour," said a leading sports lawyer.

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