Stakes high for Ferdinand as FA say ban could increase

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Rio Ferdinand will be risking a ban which extends into 2005 when he appeals against his eight-month suspension tomorrow for failing to take a drug test.

Rio Ferdinand will be risking a ban which extends into 2005 when he appeals against his eight-month suspension tomorrow for failing to take a drug test.

The Manchester United defender is to argue that his punishment was excessive but the Football Association, in their submission, will remind the independent hearing that under guidelines laid down by the world game's governinmg body, Fifa, Ferdinand should have been banned for a year. Since Ferdinand did not start his suspension until January that would rule him out until mid-way through next season.

The appeal is the final chapter in a saga that began when Ferdinand missed his test in September, five months ago. It is not, however, the longest-running disciplinary issue to be considered this season. A case involving Joe Cole, dating back to 19 April last year, was only settled in December. There are many other examples of slow-moving disciplinary cases. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will have a personal hearing today over charges levelled in the wake of Chelsea's match at Scarborough on 3 January. A date has yet to be set for a hearing into Paul Scholes' alleged punch at Doriva on 11 February. If found guilty each could then appeal, further prolonging procedures.

In an attempt to streamline procedures, which themselves bring the game into disrepute, the FA yesterday announced a series of measures to be trialled in the Premiership, Football League and Football Conference from next season.

Prime among them is the decision to come into line with Fifa's insistence that red cards will be punished immediately, rather than after a two-week hiatus. However, after making a submission to Fifa at their Zurich headquarters last week the FA have been given permission to allow appeals for wrongful dismissal. These will be heard within four working days. There will be no personal hearings.

Appeals will be allowable only if the punishment exceeds three matches and spurious appeals - designed to manipulate the system and keep players available for key fixtures - will be penalised by stiffer sentences. Of the 568 red cards issued to teams in these leagues last season only 78, 14 per cent, prompted appeals, of which only 15 were successful.

Incidents not seen by the referee will be dealt with within the week. An appeal within a further week. Offences which do not fall within the referee's jurisdiction, such as tunnel incidents and those after the final whistle, will be dealt with within a fortnight if there is no appeal, within a month if there is.

Where the police are involved, as in the Cole case, the FA will act unless the police ask them not to - in the past they have waited until the police investigation has been concluded.

Disciplinary commissions will be reminded that punishments should reflect those that would have been levied by the referee. For example, Jens Lehmann, of Arsenal, would have been dismissed by Steve Dunn for throwing the ball at Kevin Phillips at Southampton in December had the final whistle not gone. Dunn reported Lehmann, who was found guilty but only fined, not banned for three matches as would have been the case had he been sent off.

Mark Palios, the FA's chief executive, who commissioned the review conducted by Brendon Batson, said: "The intention is to take lawyers out of the game. We needed to speed things up. It was taking so long players and supporters were forgetting why they were being banned."

A separate review, dealing with the processing of doping cases, is due to be completed at the end of the month.

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