Euro 2016: Doping in soccer – ‘The submerged part of the iceberg’


Story highlights

Jens Lehmann: "Footballers stupid to cheat"

Ex-WADA boss Pound points finger at soccer

FIFA doctor defends approach to anti-doping

Jiri Dvorak: "There is no cover-up"

CNN —  

“I think as a player you must be quite stupid to take ingredients that are forbidden,” former Arsenal and Germany international goalkeeper Jens Lehmann told CNN when he was asked if soccer had a doping problem.

There are 65,000 professional male and female soccer players in the world and in 2014, according to world governing body FIFA, 31,242 doping tests were carried out worldwide, with 61 samples (0.20%) testing positive.

By way of comparison, at the 2012 Olympic Games there were nine positive doping tests out of just over 5,000 tests (0.18%) though the International Olympic Committee recently announced 23 competitors at the London Games have failed retrospective doping tests.

Read: 23 possible Rio Olympians fail London 2012 drug tests

01:38 - Source: CNN
Jens Lehmann talks doping in football

Lehmann played for 23 years before retiring in 2011, having quit international football three years earlier.

“In 2008, maybe because I was 38 and my age, I was tested eight times in one season,” recalled the 46-year-old, who now works as a TV pundit. “But after I retired from international duties I wasn’t tested at all.”

From Friday until July 10, UEFA will run its prestigious international competition – the European Championship – which is held every four years.

Since January, UEFA says it has been conducting tests on all of the 24 finalists, “with a combination of urine, whole blood and serum samples being collected in and out of competition.”

Tests will also be conducted at each of the 51 matches in France, involving at least two players from each team at every game.

“The control system of UEFA is really rigid and strong,” said Lehmann as he talked about his experience of playing in Europe, adding he had never suspected opponents or colleagues he played with or against of doping.

’Dirty business’

Perhaps the most high-profile case of doping in the sport came in 1994 when Diego Maradona tested positive for ephedrine at the World Cup in the U.S.

At the time Maradona, then 33, denied taking the drug “intentionally.

“They’ve (FIFA) cut my legs off. This is a real dirty business. I’d like to believe in (Joao) Havelange and (Sepp) Blatter but after this … well, I don’t want to say anything,” said Maradona.

Havelange was FIFA president from 1974 to 1998, when Blatter – who was the organization’s general secretary in ‘94 – succeeded him. The Swiss was president until his resignation in 2015 and subsequent six-year suspension from football.

So is doping in soccer the exception rather than the norm?

Dick Pound, the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency and head of the independent commission that uncovered widespread doping in Russian track and field, said that given it is the most important sport in the world and it’s so high energy it’s hard to believe that people are not using performance-enhancing drugs.

Read: Russia could be banned from Olympics after WADA report

“It’s a bit like the Russians – it’s one thing ‘knowing’ it’s going on, it’s another thing proving it,” added Pound, speaking to CNN in a telephone interview from his Montreal office.

The Canadian lawyer said getting the authorities on board with the issue of doping was a perpetual challenge when he helped form WADA nearly 17 years ago.

“We have always had trouble attracting FIFA to the problem. For many years, they sort of didn’t think the world anti-doping codes should apply to them. At one time, the world’s largest sport’s registered testing pool consisted of just 10 players, and you’re never going to catch anyone doing that.”

’No failed tests’

FIFA’s chief medical officer Dr. Jiri Dvorak defended the governing body’s approach to anti-doping, and said it was “working closely with WADA.”

“I’ve been a FIFA medical officer for 20 years and it is my responsible firstly to take care of the health of footballers. That’s No. 1,” he told CNN from FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich.

Dvorak said FIFA has “led the way in anti-doping,” citing the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where biological passports were introduced to the tournament for the first time – a move that has since extended to the European Champions League.

“There were no failed tests, which I’m very pleased about. It shows it’s clean,” he said of soccer’s showpiece tournament.

For Pound, however, the fact no one “got caught” at the World Cup is “almost more suspicious.” FIFA has been through the mire with allegations of corruption and bribery, wholesale arrests of key figures and a clear-out of many of its previous leaders.

“It’s hard to believe that it would simply stop at the top and not spread to the field of play,” Pound said.

Dvorak denied that suggestion, insisting “there is 100% no covering up of cheating” at FIFA.

“And I can say for sure there will not be as long as I’m chief medical officer,” he added. “There is no intent to covering up anything.”

’Do the maths’

WADA was first alerted to the systematic doping in Russian athletics by Hajo Seppelt’s documentary on German television – and the filmmaker also suspects that some soccer players use drugs too.

“People who say that there is no doping problem in football, that’s bull**t,” Seppelt told CNN. “People say the drugs have no benefits, but look at the science and the distances covered by players in the game today.”

The German’s view is supported by Ross Tucker, a respected sports scientist based in South Africa.

“Dick Pound talked about the Russian situation being the tip of the iceberg – this is the submerged part of the iceberg,” Tucker told CNN via a Skype call.

“For me, the driving factor for doping consistently is when you’re in a team environment of high reward for getting to the first team.”

He compared soccer’s situation with that of cycling – a sport that has a history of endemic doping, brought to global attention by the downfall of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.

Read: Lance Armstrong interview

“If there’s the incentive to dope and limited risk to doping, you do the maths,” Tucker said. “The incentive is much higher than cycling to dope in football, with the competition for places and the money involved.

“As for the argument that football is more about skill and tactical nous than other sports, that’s true but doping can still be a contributing factor to being in the optimal physical condition.

“But it’s definitely a complex issue in football as there are so many players and so many exposures, it’s difficult to cover the bases. That’s why there are no positive doping results.”

Drastic punishment

One veteran coach, Vicente del Bosque, who will lead Spain’s title defense at Euro 2016, back in 2013 swatted away questions about doping by saying: “It is a subject that I prefer to ignore.”

However Arsene Wenger, the veteran manager of English club Arsenal, has spoken at length about his fears for doping after Dinamo Zagreb’s Arijan Ademi tested positive following his side’s Champions League win over the Gunners last season.

“I am at a loss of words to describe how terrible I feel,” Ademi said after he was banned for four years in November. “I am not guilty, I know that I did nothing wrong but still received a drastic punishment.”

Wenger said his Arsenal had “played against many teams” using performance-enhancing drugs and later stated: “I’m not satisfied with the level of testing.”

FIFA’s Dvorak dismissed Wenger’s skepticism, adding: “I do not share this view. I respect Arsene Wenger very much as a coach but making a statement like that must be substantiated. If he gives me an idea of what we should do better than, we will consider it. To suggest not enough is being done is wrong.

“Take the teams in the Champions League, that’s a pool of 1,100 players. If your team reaches the final, you will be tested at least five or six times unannounced when out of training and in competition.”

’Football is not behind’

In the English Premier League, drug tests – for both urine and blood – are carried out by the UK Anti-Doping Agency on behalf of the Football Association.

In the 2014-15 season, UKAD says it carried out 2,286 tests in English soccer, which led to nine rule violations.

However, The Times reported in April that one-third of Premier League footballers were not tested at all for banned drugs that season while in Scotland, a report in March stated that just eight tests were conducted in the game there in the preceding nine months.

The Scottish Football Association insisted the sport there was “clean” while the FA said “no other national governing body in the UK dedicates as much resources to prevent doping in its sport.”

Doping is not a new issue in football. Former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg and Stanley Matthews – one of England’s all-time greats – both admitted to taking amphetamines, while it is 14 years since Italian club Juventus was found guilty of systematic EPO use.

But FIFA is adamant such drug use is not the issue that some are painting it to be today.

“I wish that people who are criticizing or have doubts take time to go through the details and understand how much effort has been put in over the past 20 years,” Dvorak concludes.

“Football is not behind. I think we’re frontrunners.

“We were the first ones to introduce blood sampling – at the World Cup in 2002. We’ve been testing consistently in and out of competition. We are in pole position.”

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01:46 - Source: CNN
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