McCann, Co. Fermanagh, N. Ireland, 17 October 2003:
I feel obliged to put finger to keyboard on the above affair.
last two weeks have shown that football in general and the English FA in
particular is still way behind most other sports in its willingness to tackle
the problem of drug abuse in sport. As
was pointed out in the Guardian, the World Chess Federation is a signatory to
the World Anti-Doping Agency's Code of Practice whereas FIFA is not.
It is as much this ambivalent attitude to the issue of drugs that leads
people like Rio Ferdinand, Gordon Taylor, Man Utd and many of your contributors
to believe that it is perfectly reasonable for Rio Ferdinand to go shopping
while he should be taking a drugs test. Sure
many's the person forgets to tax their car.
And there's the problem. While
the failure to comply with drug testing procedures is put on the same level as
forgetting to pack your daughter's lunch in her school bag then we can begin to
understand the outrage from Ferdinand, Taylor et al.
we really have here is a failure to tell your neighbour that his house is on
fire. Ferdinand was informed twice
that he would have to be tested after the training session.
In the space of less than two hours he "forgot" (unlike Messrs
Giggs and Butt) that this was to take place.
He was allowed to go home (or shopping) and apparently was uncontactable
until after the drug testers had left Carrington.
One wonders had his agent been trying to contact him to arrange a
lucrative commercial endorsement would he have had as much interest in shopping
for household goods?
lot has been said and written about the concept of fairness and the presumption
of innocence. But Ferdinand is not
innocent. He is guilty of a failure
to comply with drug testing procedures and he has admitted his guilt, the only
question is did he deliberately break the rules of was it simply
is not usually a water tight defence. How
then can we presume he is innocent? Only
Gordon Taylor can do this. Taylor's
media performances were nothing short of grotesque and can be summed up thus
"PFA members, it doesn't matter what you do we'll back you all the way
(particularly if you're in the wrong)".
Rio supporters may have a case in complaining as to how his punishment
was meted out. But the FA was between a rock and a hard place.
this scenario. Ferdinand plays,
England qualify, then today we hear the news that Rio Ferdinand admits
committing a doping offence and that he, the PFA, the FA, and Manchester Utd all
knew about it before the match. Cue
the Turkish FA, UEFA and FIFA down on the FA like a ton of used sample
bottles...bye-bye Euro 2004?...possibly, lengthy ban for Ferdinand?.. almost
certainly. The only person in the
clear would probably be Gordon Taylor.
put the case well for harsh discipline when a player has refused to take a drug
test. What you do not do is put the
case well for the imposition of discipline without regard to fundamental
fairness or due process, as it is called.
has nothing to do with the presumption of innocence. It is true some who believe Ferdinand was treated unfairly
have invoked that presumption, but they are incorrect. As we pointed out in
comment piece we wrote last year about the Lee Bowyer-Jonathon Woodgate affair,
the presumption of innocence has no application outside criminal proceedings and
particularly not in administrative disciplinary proceedings.
You will not find a word about the presumption of innocence in any of our
comments on the Ferdinand affair.
process entitles a player to 1.) advance notice of the conduct that is
proscribed and the penalties for commission of that conduct, and 2.) a hearing
before any of those penalties are imposed.
The F.A. violated both these principles of fairness in Ferdinand’s
rights belong to the guilty as well as the innocent. One of the reasons this is so is because the appropriate
level of the discipline to be imposed hinges on the particular circumstances of the breach
of rules. In previous cases
involving failure to take a drug test where the players offered a believable
exculpatory reason, the F.A. imposed only a fine and did not even reveal the
players’ identity. On the other
hand, if Ferdinand deliberately sought to avoid the drug test, a suspension
would be in order. But the facts
must be developed at a hearing before punishment is imposed.
is no ground for violating due process, and the courts have been unyielding on
this. Granted, the procedures
need wholesale revision. But that
revision should be accomplished fairly.
players treat drug tests cavalierly—and we are not sure they do; Ferdinand
himself knew the seriousness of his failure, as evidenced by his frantic call to
the F.A. in an effort to arrange another test that same day--that is because the
F.A., through neglect, has allowed them to do so. That the F.A. has been lax in the past is not sufficient
reason to ignore principles of fairness in bringing in, virtually overnight,
without any consultation with the players’ organisation and without any advance warning, a new ex post facto disciplinary
regime to deal retroactively with the offence of one Rio Ferdinand.
is not a cavalier attitude to drug testing which informs our outrage at the
manner in which the F.A. treated Ferdinand, but solely the unfairness of the
manner in which it proceeded against him.
And we believe the same is true of the England players and Gordon Taylor.
should have been treated according to the rules that were in place at the time
of his offence. Why this most basic
principle of decency and fairness is beyond the ken of the F.A. and most of the
media and fans who have commented on the Ferdinand affair is mystifying.
If the rules need changing—and it appears they do--let it be done
openly, with advance notice and warning to all affected.
Let it not be done overnight, in secrecy, without consultation and with
to fairness sometimes carries a price, particularly if the rules in place are
grossly inadequate to deal with the problem.
Civilised societies are willing to bear that price,
which sometimes involves looking bad, as in the purely hypothetical
scenario you posit. Even so, the
F.A. had ample time to schedule and hold an expedited hearing before suspending
Ferdinand from the Turkey match. But it did not move on the matter until
the week before the match, when it changed normal procedure and imposed a ban
without a hearing for the first time in modern history. Next time, we
trust, it will do much better.
fact is that no one but the F.A. had any objection to Ferdinand playing against
Turkey, and that includes UEFA and the Turkish Football Association, both of
which said so days before the match. The
F.A. would not have paid any price for adhering to fundamental fairness in
Neville is right in at least one respect; the reason the F.A. acted so peremptorily in Rio’s case was
to protect its image. In our view,
the F.A.’s willingness to sacrifice principles of fairness for the sake of its
own image is disgraceful and in fact undermines that image.