THE most popular team in the world's most popular game has unfortunately set a bad example in its reaction to the inquiry into the failure of its most expensive player to take a routine drug test last September. After a Football Association disciplinary panel decided unanimously on Friday to suspend Rio Ferdinand from the game for eight months and to fine him £50'000, Ferdinand's employers, Manchester United, issued this statement: “We are extremely disappointed by the result of this case, in particular by the savage and unprecedented sentence which makes an appeal inevitable. Rio has the full support of Manchester United and the Professional Footballers Association.” Rio Ferdinand and Manchester United should be careful about pursuing an appeal. Many people concerned about the image of soccer may think that the “savage and unprecedented sentence” was actually on the lenient side and should perhaps be increased to two years and a fine of £100'000 if the appeal is not upheld. Ferdinand was charged with “failure or reluctance to submit to drug testing”. His defence was that he forgot to keep the date with the testers from UK Sport because he was preoccupied by having to move house on the same day. But he had earlier been on the premises where the tests were being done and so the issue is not only his forgetfulness but also the slackness of Manchester United's staff in failing to ensure that he took the test.

Several other sports - athletics in particular - have imposed draconian measures to keep their drugs at bay. A ban of two years for a positive test is by no means uncommon. The international and national authorities in soccer must follow this example, especially in high-profile cases such as Ferdinand's.


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