Graham Kelly: Ferdinand a fall guy for football's Olympic ideal

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Rio Ferdinand case was part of a bigger picture. It should not surprise us that there has been so much written about so-called "doping in sport" these past several months. Although it lends its brand name to the International Olympic Committee medical code which lays down the anti-doping rules, the only concern of the IOC, that supreme authority of the Olympic movement, as it styles itself, is that every four years its "Olympicfest" should grip the attention of the world for three hectic weeks.

Its priorities are spectacle, excellence and appreciation, so it must avoid being a security risk, it cannot tolerate mediocrity and its participants, be they competitors or couch potatoes, must look forward to the next Games with even greater enthusiasm.

The Olympic ideal has been prey to allegations of being soft on drugs for 40 years, so there is always frenzied activity about this time in the cycle to "do something" about "drugs cheats". A year ago this month, the World Anti-Doping Agency published its first anti-doping code, which is in effect the old IOC medical code with a few different knobs on. The two most important of these differences are tucked away, not to say hidden, in the introduction.

The first is that its purpose is "to ensure harmonised, co-ordinated and effective anti-doping programmes at the national and international level with regard to detection, deterrence and prevention of doping", an aim so important to Wada that the word "harmonisation" is used three more times on that page.

The second is even more shocking: "Anti-doping rules, like competition rules, are sport rules governing the conditions under which sport is played. Athletes accept these rules as a condition of participation. Anti-doping rules are not intended to be subject to or limited by the requirements and legal standards applicable to criminal proceedings or employment matters."

A direct result of the Greg Rusedski tribunal is that anti-doping codes which are part and parcel of how a sport is run must be published openly, so that each participant can read and understand them. Taken with the requirement that only athletes whose governing bodies have Wada-approved anti-doping rules will be allowed to compete in Athens, the message here would mean that there could be hundreds of thousands of pre-booked spectators in the shiny new billion-dollar Athens stadiums, and a billion television viewers besides, watching very few competitors.

Lo and behold, so that football could be kept in the Olympics Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa who was so vocal in his condemnation of Ferdinand at the time of the original commission, staged a bizarre love-in with Richard Pound QC, the Wada president. Fifa's medical chiefs originally expressed reservations about the inflexibility of the Wada sanctions but, as the Olympics edged ever closer, it was clear that something had to give.

How's this for expediency? The Wada code allows for exceptional circumstances, so football's world governing body was granted exemption to deal with doping cases in whatever manner it sees fit, because, Blatter says, "all drugs offences are exceptional".

Just as Blatter's spectre hung over the first Ferdinand tribunal, so that of Lord Coe appeared above last week's appeal. If it was justice for the Football Association's own doping control expert to pronounce on the eve of the meeting that he would be "very disappointed" if the "proportionate" sentence were reduced, then I'm a banana, to paraphrase a noted courtroom comment. No doubt the eight-month ban was indeed reasonable if you were seeking to take down a peg or three a club that is widely perceived as massively arrogant. And, in comparison with sentences handed down in athletics, it could not be said to be excessive.

But to hit a first offender so suddenly, no matter how stupidly he behaved, with a suspension that not only bars him from the European Championship finals in June but also England's first two World Cup qualifying matches next season is completely out of sync with punishments given to Manchester City's Christian Negouai for the same offence and to proven drugs offenders Jaap Stam and Mark Bosnich. It is, to my mind, wildly disproportionate. It is akin to Eric Cantona's ban for assaulting a spectator. "Savage" was the solicitor Maurice Watkins's apt description.

Clearly the panels hearing the case were not as independent of the Football Association as its chief executive, Mark Palios, claimed. Indeed I understand the balance of appeals boards will be altered to provide more outside members, while the original commission member Peter Heard, the Colchester United chairman, was retained as a consultant by a firm that had business links with the FA.

Clause 10.3 of the FA's out-of-competition testing rules states in the case of missed tests "both the club and its players may be subject to disciplinary proceedings". Brave new FA, or convenient scapegoat?