Football clubs and associations ‘turn blind eye’ to professional players’ #doping

| April 18, 2017 | 0 Comments

Newly released leaks about doping in football have re-ignited debate about the sport’s continuing denial of the problem. In the past, some footballers have argued that taking banned substances is not a risk worth taking on the grounds that even if such substances improve performance they negatively affect other physical capacities. But this has merely served to underplay the scale of the problem, writes Martin Banks. 

The links between performance-enhancing drugs and professional players have therefore become ever-more confused.  Liken it to a fog that’s become even more dense.  The existence of doping in football has long been something of an “open secret” for the public and that fog has started to clear, albeit just a little, following the publication of key data by the hackers’ group, “Fancy Bears.”  It recently leaked a huge amount of information on the “Adverse Analytical Findings” listed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

This includes data on samples containing substances on WADA’s “List of Prohibited Substances and Methods” which had been supplied by footballers, some of them big stars playing in major European leagues.  The report is important as it seeks to shed much-needed light on the matter. The leaked figures show that WADA detected 149 doping cases in 2015 alone, with positive tests from players coming not only from Brazil, England, France, Italy, Spain and Germany but also places where football is not a first rank sport such as Thailand, Estonia and Malta.  The striking fact is that WADA’s list categorised anonymous samples and, consequently, the names of athletes caught up in the fraud are exclusively known by the national football federations.

The WADA document also shows that, among others, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and South American and Asian associations commissioned the testing procedures and that many of the athletes involved were not only professionals but were caught “red-handed” immediately after international matches. In fact, the WADA case is only the latest in a long series of such scandals over the years, including those which have currently engulfed Juventus, one of the leading teams in Italy and top Liverpool player Mamadou Sakho.

These cases show that the world of football and its associations has still not acknowledged the extent of the  doping problem.  The “conspiracy of silence” engulfing football clubs and organizations worldwide has merely served to either “cover up” the doping scandal and the not-so-responsible conduct of players.

To fully understand the doping issue, it is necessary to question both the reasons that push players to take prohibited substances and also what they take. Researchers and doping experts argue that as modern-day football gets more and more dynamic, players need significant strength and stamina to quickly recover from fatigue and injuries. Therefore, the argument goes, they are easily tempted to boost endurance through banned medications.  Footballers today are part of a lucrative business that imposes frantic schedules. English Premier League stars, for example, play for their club in a national league, two cup competitions and the Champions League, plus their national squads. Their counterparts in other European professional leagues also take part in 60 to 70 matches per season, excluding the demands made by sponsorships and advertising campaigns.

This frenetic lifestyle, combined with the huge availability of banned medicines, renders doping an option and one that is within everybody’s reach. The “top-of-the-list” substances cited in the WADA data include amphetamines, asthma medications, anti-estrogens, cannabis, cocaine, peptide hormones and anabolic steroids.  Although some of these substances can be legally used under Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) issued by national authorities, the majority of the drugs listed above are traditional favourites in doping. Stimulants are known to boost a player’s aggressiveness if taken immediately before a match while steroids strengthen muscles and hasten recovery. A new challenge for anti-doping authorities comes in the shape of the Selective Androgen Receptive Modulators (SARMs), similar to steroids but more difficult to trace.

However, knowledge of such medications is relatively secondary compared to the obstructive response to the problem of football associations worldwide.  Out of the 3,000 tests carried out in 2015, FIFA claimed that only 78 cases, or 0.24 %, were positive. But WADA detected 149 positive samples, suggesting that players had not been banned according to the rules.  The National Federation of Mexican football dismissed the 33 cases tracked in 2015 by stating that players must have eaten contaminated meat and discharged them. The English FA, meanwhile, has something of a relaxed policy towards the issue, saying cocaine and hashish are classed as “social drugs” which means that if players use them out of match days they’re likely to remain unpunished.

The Spanish Liga and the country’s National Anti-Doping Association (NADA) were classified as “no-WADA compliant” in March 2016 because they had not carried out testing procedures at any level of football level for nearly a year.  However, the German Football Association (Deutscher Fußball-Bund, DFB) is leading the way.  Although intensive drug detecting testing has been conducted by the German NADA only since 2015, the DFB reports not a single doping case being detected in recent years.

Cheating the German authorities is no easy task, as NADA investigations are very strict: players can be tested any time, any place and are requested to report their movements even in their spare time. However, although German inspectors attempt to test the athletes quite often and unexpectedly, it has been suggested that players may have been warned of upcoming tests in advance.  The German DFB enjoys a reputation of being one of the few fair actors in terms of compliance but German doping cases highlighted by WADA suggests things are far from perfect in Germany as elsewhere.

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, FIFA, Health, Lifestyle, Sport

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