Fifa gains opt-out of Olympic drug guidelines

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The Independent Online

World football's governing body has agreed to fall into line with the global anti-doping programme - provided it can run its own show.

In what was described by both parties as an "historic agreement", FIFA president Sepp Blatter and World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound finally signed a co-operation agreement in the fight against the drug cheats, eliminating the danger of football being thrown out of the Athens Olympic Games in August.

The declaration, also signed by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, gave football the authority to impose its own individual sanctions whenever doping rules are infringed without having to abide by any blanket ban.

Both parties were forced to accept a compromise after protracted wrangling over the issue.

FIFA have long pressed the argument for every doping infraction to be treated on its merits - dubbed individual case management - but, as a trade-off, it will have to accept WADA continuing to have a right of appeal if it feels FIFA's penalties are too lenient.

Although today's declaration was separate from WADA's binding world anti-doping code endorsed by other Olympic sports, officials said it was a formality that FIFA would sign the code itself.

"Formally accepting the code is really no different to signing it," said Pound.

"It's a question of applying it. The dispute was only ever about the timing of an internal handling of individual cases."

Michel d'Hooghe, FIFA's top medical officer, said it was now clear that sanctions were not necessarily mandatory.

"What has now been clarified is that there is an absolute possibility of no sanctions at all being applied," he told the Press Association.

Meanwhile, in his speech to the FIFA's centennial congress, Blatter reiterated that the organisation would never permit the introduction of technical aids, such as video playback of controversial incidents, at the World Cup.

"New technology has found its way into the game but we should never become its slave," he said.

"We must protect the human face of football. Referees have dedicated their hearts and souls to control the game.

"It has become a very courageous job but they should never be replaced by cameras."

Blatter also appealed to delegates to ignore the growing demands of the G14 - the elite grouping of European clubs including Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal - who are challenging the established power of the national associations.

"We need to be extremely wary, otherwise we will no longer have national teams," warned Blatter.

"We need you to call these clubs to order and give them all a yellow card."

FIFA also decided to lift the six point deduction imposed on Cameroon for persisting in wearing a one-piece kit in the African Nations Cup in spite of several warnings that it violated the rules.

The African nation can now enter the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign with a clean slate.

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