Football warned over drugs
LONDON — On the grand scale of doping scandals in sport, the case of Mamadou Sakho is unlikely to be among the most shocking.
If the Liverpool defender has failed a drugs test for using a ‘fat burner’ that contains a banned substance, he could receive anything from a reprimand to a two-year ban depending on the circumstances.
But football should not kid itself into thinking doping remains more of a problem for the traditional power and endurance sports.
There is a reason why Arsene Wenger has raised his concerns this season about doping in football.
And why Nicole Sapstead, the chief executive of the UK Anti-doping Agency, suggested in January that something ‘doesn’t feel right’ about the global game.
It is probably because there are so few serious doping cases in football when performance-enhancing drugs could be used to such good effect in the top-level professional game.
Not everyone sees that. Mark Lawrenson responded to news of Sakho’s positive last week by pointing out that drugs will never improve a player’s ability to trap a ball or shoot with more accuracy.
But if they improve endurance, speed and power, as well as the ability to recover from fatigue and injury, the benefits to a football team are screamingly obvious.
And in no other sport, certainly in Europe, are the stakes higher or the rewards greater.
As former German international footballer Paul Breitner once said: “The footballer who believes that with doping he can keep his starting place, who can contribute more to victory and can earn more money — why would he not use doping? The motivation to dope is the same for a footballer as it is for a cyclist.”
In Wenger’s opinion, testing in football is inadequate and perhaps explains why there are so few serious cases of doping in the sport.
Arsenal’s manager finds it a concern that players, with the exception of Diego Maradona in 1994, never fail drugs tests at the World Cup.
“It is very difficult for me to believe that you have 740 players at the World Cup and you come out with zero problems,” he said in that interview with L’equipe.
“Mathematically, that happens every time. But statistically, even for social drugs, it looks like we would do better to go deeper.”
A basic analysis of the most recent figures on the World Anti-doping Agency website certainly suggests football is not immune and that not everyone gets away with it.
Of the 31,242 samples taken in world football in 2014, there were 144 adverse analytical findings.
Compare that to athletics — 25,830 samples and 261 AAFS — or cycling — 22,471 samples and 221 AAFS — and people seem to be being caught, even if an AAF does not always equate to a doping violation.
Over the years there has been evidence of doping in football, if not always indisputable proof. The Hungarians were suspicious of their German conquerors in the 1954 World Cup final after syringes and needles were found in their dressing room. The team doctor would later claim these were nothing more than Vitamin C injections.
There have been nandrolone positives, with former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam among those to have been found with traces of the banned steroid in his system when playing for Lazio.
And there was the Juventus doping scandal of the late 90s, when investigators raided the club to find 281 different types of drug in a medical department compared to ‘ a small hospital’.
Riccardo Agricola, the club doctor, received a suspended 22-month jail sentence for supplying Juventus players with performanceenhancing drugs, only to later have his conviction overturned on appeal. The players, next Chelsea manager Antonio Conte among them, always denied cheating.
The blood samples at the centre of Spain’s Operacion Puerto scandal could have massive implications for football. Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of the investigation, once told a French newspaper that he had worked with footballers as well as cyclists.
Only recently, a London-based doctor was filmed telling undercover Sunday Times reporters that he has provided banned substances to Premier League footballers. As yet there is no evidence.
Could a state-sponsored doping programme in Russia extend to football? Dick Pound, the former WADA president who led the investigation into Russian doping, said ‘it would be naive to think it was only Russia and naive to think it’s only athletics’.
The coach of the Russian football team is Leonid Slutsky, who juggles the role with his position as the coach of CSKA Moscow.
Slutsky was in charge at CSKA when two of their Russian internationals — one of whom still plays for Russia — failed drugs tests after a 3-3 draw with Manchester United in November 2009. — Daily Mail
Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho.