It’s fairly true to say that in terms of major drugs or addiction scandals, the world of football seems to have so far been relatively unscathed.
Of course we’ve all seen the trials and tribulations of Paul Gascoigne unfolding over recent years – and his battles, punctuated by periods of contrite sobriety, being played out in the public eye, but there’s never really been a massive drugs cheat story discovered and broken as yet. That’s not to say that they don’t exist, just that they haven’t yet been found out. It seems that The World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) president, John Fahey thinks this idea may very well be true and he has set out his stall in the strongest possible terms to speak about the fact that drugs testing in football simply does not go far enough.
More testing required
He’s not alone either. Speaking in February this year, Arsene Wenger had already given an interview on the subject, voicing his opinion that players ought to have regular blood tests to make sure that drug cheats don’t corrupt and bring the game into any disrepute.
His idea is not without merit. Over in Europe and also in Australia, it seems that problems with doping are rife, not only that, they aren’t entirely new either. In Spain, players playing for the Real Sociedad side had apparently been taking part in illegal doping for as long as ten years, before they and their team Doctor Eufemanio Fuentes were found out, brought to book and put on trial for their offences earlier this year.
At the present moment in time, the only way football players in the UK are tested for banned or recreational substances in their systems, is through urine samples and Wenger is quoted as saying “Would I support blood testing? Yes I would”, further adding that he found it incredibly hard to believe that there were well over 700 players in the World Cup, yet seemingly no drug problems He feels more rigorous testing is required to go deeper and make sure nothing at all is missed. Wenger also argues that blood testing would in fact be quicker overall and provide more detailed and consistent results, as waiting for a urine sample after a game takes a good few hours, whilst a vial of blood can be taken straight away without issue.
Not just an issue of doping
Testing is also required to make sure that players are not taking or abusing recreational drugs either. Figures that were released from last year’s UK football season show that there were well over 1,200 tests carried out on players from all levels of the professional game and all leagues – and testing has also now been introduced in the off season period too. The results of last years’ tests had showed that only four players in total had taken either recreational or performance enhancing drugs. Three were found to have taken cannabis and one a substance called Methylhexaneamine, a stimulant which enhances performance. That player was subsequently suspended from playing for two years. None of the three players who tested positive for recreational drugs were named, in accordance with FA protocol. This is so that they can have a chance to clean up their act, get counselling, receive in patient treatment at a luxury drug rehabilitation facility and be able to return to the game clean and free of stigma. The FA therefore is arguing that it already goes beyond the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Agency, simply because they test players out of season. FIFA are similarly defiant in all of this. They maintain that they carry out the drug testing in all international competitions and have also stated that they feel there is nothing wrong with their methods of testing either.
According to their figures, in the year 2011, just under 29,000 samples were taken and tested worldwide – some of these did include blood samples as well as urine. Their results suggest that of these, only 19 tested positive for performance enhancing drugs or banned hormones. A further 40 samples tested positive for recreational drugs, with again, cannabis being the main substance found in samples.
The World Anti-Doping Agency on the basis of these findings still maintains that the reason there have been no major drugs scandals is that testing remains inconclusive and insufficient.
The FA and FIFA have countered this saying their testing is rigorous and to a high standard. Though voices such as Arsene Wenger’s are starting to make themselves increasingly heard that perhaps more does need to be done to make sure that football stays clean and doesn’t become sullied by its own equivalent of the Lance Armstrong story.
About the author:
Evelyn Green is a freelance writer and full-time mother of two. After college she began work as a nutritionist before motherhood changed her life and she decided to turn her interest in nutrition into a writing job.
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