is most noteworthy about the English football community’s reaction to the
Rio Ferdinand affair is its
general evasion of the merits of the important issue of fair play the England players
have so dramatically raised. The
substantive poverty of the response is not promising for the future of the
game in England.
reaction from the media and fans alike has taken several forms, but, with rare
exception, it shares a refusal to come to grips with the fairness of the
procedures by which Ferdinand was suspended from the Turkey game—and that is
the only issue the players have raised.
the players’ position has been consistently distorted, sometimes through
ignorance but often deliberately. They
have never claimed they are not subject to the drug testing rules that are in
place. They have never questioned
or criticised those drug testing rules. They
have never said that Ferdinand should not be disciplined.
All they have objected to is the infliction of punishment on a player
without first giving him the opportunity to defend himself at a hearing—the
violation of a right that is deemed fundamental in all civilised societies.
This flouting of fair play is a threat to all players, not just Ferdinand or the England players.
the media have trotted out the opinions of old-time players who almost
universally condemn the position the England players of today have taken.
Sir Alf would have sent the lot packing, bleats Alan Mullery, for
example. These old-timers put up
with shoddy treatment throughout their careers.
Times have changed; we have advanced considerably in our notions of
what constitutes fair treatment in general and even more in our concept of the treatment
to which players are entitled in particular. With
all due respect, this appeal to authority couched in the trappings of
nostalgia has no bearing on the merits of the issue.
and most notably, the response has been characterised by apoplectic anger
which has taken the form of hysterical name-calling and pillorying.
Who do they think they are?, trumpets the Daily Mirror, for example.
There have been endless streams of newsprint blasting them as spoiled,
arrogant, pampered, coddled, overpaid, stupid, treacherous and traitorous, ad nauseam.
None of this shrill and bullying ad hominem is worth reading because it simply avoids the issue at
of the outrage stems from the players’ threat to boycott the Turkey match.
History teaches that those unfairly denied any other way of redressing
deeply-felt grievances inevitably resort to threats of extreme action.
In this case, the Football Association, for the first time in modern
history, imposed a suspension on a player without first conducting a hearing.
This constituted a radical change in the normal disciplinary rules, one
which drastically departed from commonly accepted principles of fair play and
one which threatens all players. The
F.A. took this astounding action without consulting either the players or,
more important, their representative organisation, the Professional
Footballers’ Association. Bypassed
and given no voice, the players had no other way of demonstrating the level of
their dissatisfaction than to threaten a strike.
After all, they were dealing with an organisation, the F.A., that had
arbitrarily and autocratically ignored the rules of fair play, both in
imposing the suspension without a hearing and in changing the normal
disciplinary procedure without consulting anyone. The only way to get
the F.A. to listen to them was to force the F.A. to listen to
proper target for outrage is the F.A., for its arbitrary and dictatorial flouting of fair play and for
its prevaricating and dissembling, which seem to be its routine practice.
As the England players were voting unanimously to strike, the F.A.
was lying to the press, claiming that all was amicable and there was no
threat of a strike.
F.A. is dissembling still. It now
claims that in suspending Ferdinand, it was acting on its lawyers’ warning
that if he played, Turkey could protest that he had failed to take the drug
test and UEFA could order a forfeit on that ground.
This smacks of after-the-fact rationalisation for an horrendously
unfair suspension, for the F.A. surely would have mentioned it much earlier
had it been the actual reason for the suspension without hearing.
It would not excuse the failure to conduct a hearing in advance of the suspension in any event--the due process requirement is not so easily
circumvented--although it might have been grounds for speeding up the process.
important, this belatedly-offered reason is wholesale fabrication.
As UEFA has made clear, it has no jurisdiction over the drug test Ferdinand failed to take
and would not take any adverse action were he to play in Turkey.
A simple telephone call to UEFA would have set the F.A. right on this.
But no such call was made, of course. There
was no occasion for such a call because the possibility of adverse UEFA action
is the F.A.’s after-the-fact rationalisation.
For what it is worth, the Turkish F.A. also has declared that it would
have no objection were Ferdinand to play.
as it claims, the possibility of a UEFA sanction was the reason the F.A.
suspended Ferdinand, one would expect the F.A. would reinstate him now that UEFA
has announced that Ferdinand's participation in the match would not pose a
problem. That the F.A. has not now reinstated him demonstrates that the
fear of UEFA action was a fabricated reason for the F.A.'s rush to judgment.
F.A. has now promised a thorough review of its disciplinary procedures.
It is to be hoped this is more than an empty gesture to players so
embittered they threatened a boycott.
Given the F.A.’s deplorable conduct throughout the entire affair, we
have our doubts.
Any review the F.A. does conduct will come too late for fairness to Rio
Ferdinand, of course; he will involuntarily sit out the game this weekend
despite the undeniable fact he has been afforded no hearing. It
will also come too late for fairness to national team coach Sven-Göran
Eriksson, who wanted to play Ferdinand, to Ferdinand's team-mates, who note
that the suspension has greatly weakened the team, and to England's fans, who
also have an interest in a full-strength England side taking the pitch.
it has been revealed that
on the very afternoon he missed the drug test, Ferdinand, having
realised he had forgotten it and discovering that the testers had already left
for the day, telephoned the F.A., confessing his mistake and begging
desperately that the F.A. arrange a test. That, too, was a
mistake. He was told it was his problem. The F.A. is not an organisation to be looked to for
understanding or for fair treatment.