The Football Association has responded to the alleged racist abuse of Rio and Anton Ferdinand by stating that so far "we have not found any recorded evidence of the specific discriminatory chanting".
A complaint was made to Fifa by Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare), a pan-European organisation. The allegations concern a handful of supporters who, during England's 8-0 win over San Marino last week, apparently chanted about putting the Ferdinand brothers on a bonfire. Fare admitted that it had no eye-witnesses at the game and that its allegation was based partially on media comments.
In a robust defence of its record on anti-racism measures, the FA said: "In San Marino we had FA security officers monitoring the English supporters in the stadium. This includes recorded video footage. We also worked closely with UK Police in advance of and on the night of the game.
"While we have no reason to dispute the media reports which are without doubt made for the right reasons of fighting racism, at this time we have not found any recorded evidence of the specific discriminatory chanting referring to Rio and Anton Ferdinand and the vile 'bonfire' song."
The FA was clear that, if Fifa found anyone guilty, he or she would be banned from attending England games. "Should evidence of any racial chanting be found, we would expect action to be taken against any individuals. The FA would terminate England fans' membership of any guilty members, while we would expect banning orders to be issued by the courts as a minimum penalty.
"We will continue to take every possible measure to ensure our supporters conduct themselves appropriately, as most have over the past decade." Fare's executive director, Piara Powar, declined to comment on the FA's statement.
Earlier on Friday Rio Ferdinand tweeted: "You expect + accept banter from fans on the terraces as its part of what makes the game great, but racism is not banter, & from ya own fans. WOW. Always a small minority who ruin it for others. Let's not jump to conclusions + assume though as it might just have been banter. We'll see after the investigation."
Sir Alex Ferguson is confident that Ferdinand will be strong enough to deal with the fall-out from his decision not to join up with the England squad for the San Marino and Montenegro World Cup qualifiers.
Ferdinand flew to Qatar and appeared as a television pundit for the match against San Marino. This drew criticism in view of the 34-year-old's reasoning that the detailed treatment for his back was why he declined the England selection. The view also formed that the long flight to Doha would adversely affect his condition.
Asked about the alleged racial abuse, Ferguson said: "That's modern society I'm afraid. We see a lot of that, supporters' reaction to many things, and I don't think we can change that. I think it will blow over quite quickly." Ferguson agreed that Ferdinand was strong enough to handle the situation. "Yeah, I don't think it will bother him."
Ferguson had no problem with Ferdinand's decision to fly to Doha. "It doesn't bother me one bit," he said. "They had the weekend off and players are entitled to do what they want to do."
Ferguson added that there was no issue his midfielder taking a long-haul flight. "No. He travels on long flights when we go on our pre-season tours. We went to [South] Africa last year and then on to China. That's not a problem. The important thing is how we handle him in terms of preparation for games, the type of training he does, and the hard days he gets, we have different ways of treating him that way."
Asked if Ferdinand would play for England again, the manager replied: "I couldn't tell you – I don't know. I've not spoken to him about it." Did the Friday-Tuesday schedule of international matches mean Ferdinand would find it difficult due to his back? "The programme we've got is detailed in the sense of the games he plays in and the type of training he does in the build-up to these games," Ferguson said.
The United manager was confident, though, that the central defender would be able to play on for a few more seasons for United.
"He's an athlete in that respect," Ferguson said. "He's had issues with his back obviously and age catches us all. You don't go a long time in football without suffering the penalties. But it is just one of these things. As players get older they have to adjust to the situation which Rio has done very well."