Doping in Football


In David Walsh’s fantastic book Seven Deadly Sins, which tells of his pursuit of Lance Armstrong to prove that the (then) seven time Tour De France winner had doped throughout his career, he tells a story of something his son had said in RE class. His son John was tragically killed at the age of 12 when he was knocked off his bicycle by a car and David Walsh was trying to learn more about his son in order to come to terms with the tragedy. He visited his sons old school and spoke to his former teach Mrs Twomey who told her fondest memory of John.

She was reading the nativity story to the class one day and described how the three wise men had visited the baby Jesus and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. She then went on to describe Jesus’ childhood and how they had been poor because Joseph was just a humble carpenter. It was at this point that John’s hand went up.

“If they were so poor, what did they do with the gold?”

His teacher was dumbfounded and said that in over thirty years of reading the nativity story that was the first time anybody had asked that question.

What did Mary and Joseph do with the bloody gold? David Walsh believes that is the kernel of journalism. Always question even if it sounds obvious.

It was this question that helped drive him in proving that Lance Armstrong was doping and it is the question that I always remember when my own quest gets me down.

For the past few years I have been researching doping in football.

It’s not always easy and, more often than not, ends up with people getting aggrieved that you are asking about it in the first place. I’ve had former players, current players and other people connected to the sport tell me to keep my nose out (although they haven’t always been so polite) more often than I have had people encourage me to continue. I have spoken to coaches, doctors, referees, players and even FIFA in my quest for answers but the waters are so murky that it sometimes seems impossible to see anything.

Throughout sport there have been many examples of positive tests for performance enhancing drugs and yet football seems to have escaped relatively unscathed. Some would say that maybe that is because football is clean. Usually this is from people who haven’t looked at the subject in any detail.

In 2006 police in Spain raided the offices of Dr Eufemiano Fuentes and found thousands of doses of anabolic steroids, over 100 blood products as well as machinery to transfuse and manipulate them and over 200 bags of blood belonging to patients of Dr Fuentes. Fuentes’ list of former clients is a veritable who’s who from the sporting world including tennis players, boxers, cyclists, runners and (you guessed it) footballers.

Former cyclist Jesús Manzano testified that he had seen many well-known La Liga players visiting Dr. Fuentes’ office during his time as a patient and French daily newspaper Le Monde stated that they had documents that showed Dr. Fuentes was working with both Barcelona and Real Madrid. It’s important to state there is nothing to say that any of his footballer clients were doping.

Amazingly, the judge in the case ordered that every blood bag not belonging to a cyclist be destroyed. The World Anti Doping Agency appealed the decision and we are still awaiting the outcome of the appeal. Lance Armstrong was asked about this in an interview with World Crunch (the whole interview can be read here: Worldcrunch Lance Armstrong Interview – and his answer is very telling.

World Crunch: Where do you stand on the Puerto case, in which the judge ordered the blood bags to be destroyed, nullifying the chances to identify Dr. Fuentes’ other non-cyclist clients?

Lance Armstrong: I’m sure some big soccer clubs had some influence during the Puerto trial. In any case, it’s yet again cycling that has taken the brunt of the blame.

Football has many dark corners that have yet to be illuminated and, I’m sure, there are many high profile figures within the sport that hope it remains that way. Especially when you take into account a few things that may have been overlooked by the mainstream football media.

In 2011 WADA recorded the highest number of anti-doping rule violations among FIFA-registered athletes, which is the highest number of positive tests in any of the professional sports committed to WADA regulations.

Former Argentina international Matias Almeyda claimed in his autobiography that at Parma, he and his teammates were often hooked to a drip before games saying, “They said it was a mixture of vitamin but before entering the field I was able to jump up as high as the ceiling.”

Didir Deschamps was once tested and found to have a red blood cell count of 51.2% which, if he were a professional cyclist, would have resulted in a ban (this is due to the performance enhancing drug EPO raising the red blood cell count and therefore allowing a person to compete for longer).

There still remain some who suggest that using performance enhancing drugs would not be beneficial for footballers. Someone once said to me, “Steroids can’t make you pass the ball better” which I had to concede is true but EPO, which increases VO2 max dramatically, can and does ensure that an athlete can perform at a higher level for longer as well not tiring so quickly. Anyone that thinks that ability would not be of benefit to footballers is kidding themselves. You only have to look at any team that prefers high tempo possession football to see that.

I was talking about this recently on Twitter and somebody said to me, “I guess I just like liking things” which I found incredibly offensive. Why, just because it is my belief that we need to look a bit deeper into doping in football and that questions need to be asked, does that mean I don’t “like liking things”?

I like liking football and sport in general but once you add performance enhancing drugs into the mix you are no longer watching sport. You are watching a fantasy played out by people lying not only to the fans but also themselves.

Football needs to ask itself some serious questions and work out whether it wants fantasy or reality because when footballs Lance Armstrong comes along (and it will happen someday I assure you) the fallout will be much greater than that of the former seven time Tour De France winner.

Until that day comes I will continue to ask myself that important question, “What did Mary and Joseph do with the gold?” I urge you to ask it as well.


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