Legal challenge would at least make FA explain ruling

Ferdinand Affair: Fifa warns champions against going to court as controversy over England defender's punishment grows
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The Independent Football

In ordinary circumstances, prolonging the Rio Ferdinand case, especially if it progresses to the High Court, would not serve football's interests. However, the Football Association's failure to explain the rationale behind the decision to ban the player for eight months means it may prove desirable.

United's main complaint appears to be the glaring discrepancy between Ferdinand's punishment and that meted out to Christian Negouai, the Manchester City reserve, who was fined £2,000 but not banned for missing a dope test earlier this year.

What United have missed, or ignored, is that the disciplinary commission appears to have believed Negouai's explanation that he innocently missed the test, but think Ferdinand did so wilfully. However, without access to the evidence - and reasoning - this can only be surmised.

In Negouai's case he was delayed in traffic after being told he could collect his mother from Liverpool airport. There may also have been a language problem. He did complete a test, within hours, at a private clinic and while that would be regarded as invalid it did confirm a desire to fulfil his obligation. He later passed an official test, as did Ferdinand.

The circumstances surrounding Ferdinand's case have been subject to much speculation and partial misinformation but it is suggested his mobile telephone records indicate he spoke to medical staff soon after leaving Carrington and before United were able to contact him about his missed test.

It is rumoured he had been on medication for what has been described as "a kidney complaint". It is thus possible that, though not taking performance-enhancing drugs, or social ones, Ferdinand was worried about what the test would reveal. So he ducked it. Having been reassured, he volunteered to return, but it was too late.

Wilfully missing a test, for whatever reason, is a serious offence justifying an eight-month ban, but had Ferdinand told the testers of his concerns in advance, he may have been treated with sympathy. It might have helped if United had shown humility rather than belligerence.

All this, necessarily, is based on rumour, supposition, and leaks from informed contacts. For that reason it would benefit the game if United did go to Lausanne's Court of Arbitration in Sport, for the hearings are open to the media. Then the public can judge whether Ferdinand is a scapegoat, as United and the PFA insist, fortunate, as the athletics world and the World Anti-Doping Agency claim, or merely foolish but guilty. It could be, though, that neither Ferdinand nor the club would welcome such public scrutiny.

One issue the sentence did prove is that the independent tribunal really is independent. Very few people at the FA expected or wanted a sentence of this magnitude. Apart from the problems it creates with United and the PFA, the FA's prime source of income is the England team and the money men would not have wanted it weakened for the European Championship. Mark Palios, who, as the FA's chief executive, has to make the sums balance and Wembley affordable, knows that as well as anyone.