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Keeping It Clean: Doping In Football

Tue 10th Nov 2015 | Football Governance

“There is no systematic doping culture in football,” said FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer Jiri Dvorak two years ago.

Since then, words spoken by FIFA executives have come under plenty of scrutiny but this is one area where football can hold its head high, especially in the company of other sports such as cycling and athletics. Mention ‘doping in football’ and one incident that springs to mind is when Diego Maradona’s international career with Argentina came to a sensational end, being sent home from the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States for testing positive for the performance enhancing drug ephedrine

In the scale of wider doping scandals of recent years, the Maradona incident is viewed with some humour – especially given the caricature that the Argentine legend has become since then.  But it is not simply an anomaly in football’s long history.

An 800-page report into doping in Germany claimed that three West Germany players who finished runners-up at the 1966 World Cup in England were found to have traces of ephedrine in their blood.  The report, commissioned by Germany’s Olympic Sports body and undertaken by Berlin’s Humboldt University, found that systematic doping had taken place in the Allied controlled region of the country in the 1970s and 1980s, and even as far back as the 1950s.  

Though it was not recognised to be on the same scale as the doping taking place in Soviet controlled East Germany, which still has Olympic records to its name, the findings leaked by Sueddeutsche Zeitung painted a bleak image of state-funded experiments involving substances such as anabolic steroids, testosterone, oestrogen and the blood-doping agent EPO.  

Since the report’s publication in 2013, it has been easy to look back at doping in football as another relic of the Cold War.  FIFA proudly discloses the operation of its anti-doping tests, providing behind-the-scenes videos on its website including those from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  

fcbusiness understands the World AntiDoping Agency (WADA) was more than satisfied with FIFA’s conduct of testing players in South America last year – despite the fact that samples had to be sent all the way back to Switzerland for analysis after WADA revoked the license of Rio de Janeiro’s LADETEC laboratory in 2013.  This was assisted by the introduction of the biological passport in which blood and urine samples are recorded from all players before the competition. Then, once the tournament kicked off, two players per team per match were tested and their samples checked by the Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analyses.  Taking into account all FIFA competitions in 2014, world football tested 31,242 samples.    

While Englishmen Brian Cookson and Lord Seb Coe battle to drag their respective organisations (UCI and IAAF) out of the murky waters of historic doping allegations, the English Premier League currently enjoys a more tranquil sail.  Only one player to date has been banned from England’s top league for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug: Middlesbrough’s Abel Xavier. The Portugal defender was banned from football for 18 months by UEFA for taking anabolic steroids after testing positive for dianabol after a UEFA Cup match against Shoda Xanthi. The ban was later shortened to 12 months, in 2006.  

However the cases of recreational drug use amongst professional players is alarmingly more frequent. Chelsea sacked Romanian striker Adrian Mutu in 2004 after he was banned for seven months for taking cocaine.  More recently in Scotland Jordan McMillan, who had signed for Partick Thistle until March 2015, has been suspended from all sport for two years after an anti-doping rule violation.  

McMillan, 26, tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, after an in-competition test by UK Anti-Doping following a Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Partick Thistle on December 3, 2014.  In England Hull City’s Jake Livermore managed to escape a ban for testing positive for cocaine earlier this year, because of whj8at The Football Association (The FA) described as “a very rare case.”

The FA, which handles all the disciplinary proceedings once UKAD has undertaken the testing, said in a statement that a commission hearing had been satisfied the incident was a “one-off” following the death of Livermore’s newborn baby son.  The former Tottenham midfielder faced a two year ban but The FA commission declined to enact it given his history of clean tests and the clear trauma suffered by the player.  

“It will be a very rare case that does not fall within the express sanctions provided under the regulations and the World Anti-Doping Code,” The FA said at the time.  This raises a question concerning the pressure on top-level players and whether the temptation to seek ways to ‘escape’ it could lead to similar offences.  

Graham Arthur, UKAD’s Director of Legal, said that recreational drugs were unfortunately a part of society, and that incidents were bound to occur.  “Unfortunately, the use of recreational drugs in sport is reflective of the society we live in and it can affect all sports,” Arthur told fcbusiness.

“UKAD works closely with NGBs on athlete education programmes, which provides athletes with information on not only the risk to their sporting careers, but the risk to their health if they choose to take prohibited substances.

“In England, UKAD works with The FA to develop and implement a sport-specific antidoping education programme, supporting players and support personnel of all ages with targeted information designed and delivered in accordance with the culture and language of the sport.”

The FA’s education programme covers more than 15,000 players from youth to professional level, including both male and female players. Arthur adds that the programme utilises specialist drugs and alcohol education organisations to inform social drugs and alcohol policy. But another area of concern for authorities is the widespread use of supplements available on the market nowadays.

Companies like Maximuscle and others are very good at advertising the perceived benefits of their supplements, in various forms. For players looking for that extra edge, they may use such products in the belief that as they are commercially available they are safe to take.

But Dvorak said it was alarming how much young players were turning to unregulated supplements to enhance their performance.  He said: “The marketing strategies of the producers of food supplements are influencing the behaviour of footballers and athletes in general. From different surveys we know that about 60 per cent of U-16 athletes in the USA are using nutritional supplements daily and all of them believe they will increase their performance. This is definitely not based upon the scientific evidence or literature, which says the opposite, that any of the food supplements, except in certain medical conditions, will improve your performance.

“The same scientific studies also show that 70 per cent of these young athletes do not seek adequate advice from a nutritional specialist physician, they just take it and believe it will improve their performance.

“For me as a sports physician this is not only surprising, it is alarming! Scientists and nutritional specialists agree that a wellbalanced diet will supply the body with the appropriate amount of nutrients it needs for top performance.”

Arthur was just as concerned as Dvorak when it came to analysing what extra products footballers were ingesting. “The supplement industry is not currently regulated, with a wide range of supplements available to the public, and athletes, which have not been properly tested or quality controlled,” he said.

“UKAD advises all athletes to be vigilant in using any supplement. No guarantee can be given that any supplement is free from prohibited substances.

Supplements can present a high risk for several reasons:

■ Some supplements contain banned substances

■ Some supplements can be contaminated during the manufacturing process

■ Some supplements will list ingredients on the label differently to how they would appear on the Prohibited List

■ Risk of counterfeit (fake) supplements, especially when purchased online.

Arthur added: “UKAD’s advice is that diet, lifestyle and training should all be optimised before considering supplements. Athletes should assess the need by consulting a registered nutritionist, or a sports and exercise medicine practitioner, or even a GP before taking supplements.”

So is football largely-free from doping? It certainly is not, and what is perhaps worse is that it is quite possible that the majority of doping offenders may not even realise they are doing it.

Words: Christian Radnedge

Article produced for fcbusiness Issue 89 

Image: REUTERS/Ruben Sprich Picture Supplied by Action Images

Posted by: Aaron Gourley

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