sports gazette

Is a major doping scandal just around the corner for football?

Published: 19 May 2017

With growing concerns that football could be sleepwalking into a doping problem, Sports Gazette talked to Daily Mail journalist Matt Lawton and former FA employee Mark Sudbury about the issue.

Over the years sport has never been far from doping scandals – though sports such as cycling and athletics have been much more closely associated with performance-enhancing drugs than football.

But Sudbury, former Head of Public Affairs at the FA, believes that this could change in the near future.

He said: "I think there probably will be at some point [an investigation].

"I think the big difference is between individual and team sports – where you see all the drugs issues, they’re around athletics, cycling, swimming.

"It’s individual sports where you can really pin it on individuals. I think in team sport, there’s a different dynamic to it.

"And, you know, there has been a little bit of focus over the years with individuals who’ve got caught up with it.

"Often, it’s more to do with recreational drugs than performance-enhancing – cocaine and whatever.

"I think it’s probably inevitable though that at some stage something happens that switches that a little bit."

Indeed, the majority of positive tests in football are for recreational rather than performance-enhancing drugs, with famous cases including Diego Maradona, Jake Livermore and most recently Saido Berahino.

However, with Russia hosting the World Cup next year and reports of a lack of dope control in Spain and Great Britain, could there be a problem brewing just under the surface now?

Lawton, who interviewed Sir Dave Brailsford as part of the continuing investigation into Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins, said a doping scandal in football wouldn’t come as a surprise to him.

He stated: "I'm sure there's a doping problem in football - why would there not be?

"Any sport where the stakes are massive, where there is potential for making a lot of money - the rewards are so great that of course it's vulnerable to doping."

The biggest stakes of all in football are surely the FIFA World Cup and, in 2018, all eyes will be on Russia as they host the prestigious event.

There were eyebrows raised when Russia was awarded the tournament back in 2010 and fears have only grown since then with the country’s far from perfect record on issues such as racism, homophobia and corruption.

Russia’s Olympic ban for the implementation of a state sponsored doping programme has dominated the news in the past year, and adds further pressure on FIFA to ban the country from hosting the World Cup.

I have no doubt that there are people doping in football

Many people argue that allowing Russia the hosting rights sets a dangerous precedent and does not promote an obligation for countries to employ robust anti-doping measures.

Spain is another country which has become indelibly linked with doping, with infamous sports doctor Eufemiano Fuentes rumoured to have helped scores of Spanish athletes use performance enhancing drugs.

In March 2016, Spain’s anti-doping body AEPSAD was found non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

On top of this, the BBC recently found that in the last 11 months, just 57 players from La Liga clubs not competing in Europe were tested for drugs.

After the reports of the lack of doping control in La Liga, WADA was damning of AEPSAD’s lenient practises.

In a statement, they said: "The lack of testing in a country with one of the leading football leagues worldwide for a period of 12 months is alarming and will do little to instil confidence in clean sport at a time when it is needed most."

On the surface, doping control seems far better in England: 799 tests were carried out by UK anti-doping (UKAD) on Premier League players during the 2015/2016 season.

However, if you look at the lower tiers of English football, the number of players tested reduces sharply.

Official reports disclosed that at least 39% of players in the English Football League were not tested by UKAD last season.

More worrying still, not a single player in Scotland or the English non-league was tested during the same period.

Football fans would be incredibly complacent to think that doping is a problem only prevalent in other sports and Lawton warned that it may already be more common than people know.

He said: "It might not be as widespread as some sports but I have no doubt that there are people doping in football. Absolutely no doubt."

And Sudbury supports Lawton’s view, suggesting that football is likely to come under more scrutiny.

This appears to be the case with Manchester City being fined by the FA in March for failing to provide accurate details to anti-doping officials over the whereabouts of their players for drugs testing.

He said: "The Manchester City thing is quite interesting because, of course, they haven’t been fined for any evidence of any wrongdoing – it’s just procedural.

"And I suppose you saw that a bit with some of the other sports.

"Maybe it started with procedural things – say Christine Ohuruogu. People don’t remember so much about her ‘drugs shame’ as it was at the time.

"That was an entirely procedural thing around missed tests.

"But the fact that there has been probably more coverage around that Man City one (than any other similar incidents) recently, maybe it suggests there will be more focus on football and team sport."

Further pressure must to be placed on national anti-doping agencies to ensure that football doesn’t add widespread doping to its ever-growing list of problems.

^ Back to top ^