Rio Ferdinand in a Basque

By Jump, Jim | New Statesman (1996), January 12, 2004 | Go to article overview

Rio Ferdinand in a Basque


Jump, Jim, New Statesman (1996)


With Riogate likely to enter an open-ended period of extra time for lawyers, sports administrators and assorted suits, British football fans should be grateful for one small mercy: Manchester United is not a standard-bearer for a nationalist movement that wants independence for north west England. Otherwise, judging from a football doping scandal being played out in Spain, the chances of the FA or the courts settling the case in a way acceptable to most supporters would be zero.

The Rio Ferdinand of La Liga is Carlos Gurpegi, a 23-year-old midfielder for Athletic Bilbao, a club that has become a symbol of Basque nationalism. He tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone at the end of a match on 1 September 2002. Yet so tenacious has been Athletic Bilbao's support for his protestations of innocence--and so cumbersome the machinations of the governing bodies--that Gurpegi continues to wear his club's red-and-white-striped shirt every Saturday, despite a two-year ban imposed by the Spanish football authorities in May and confirmed by Spain's supreme sports disciplinary committee in November.

The defence case is that the nandrolone was produced naturally by Gurpegi as a result of great stress--in this case, playing in a Basque derby against Athletic Bilbao's arch-rivals from San Sebastian. …

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