Football sleepwalking towards a drugs scandal

The beautiful game is failing to confront the ugly spectre of doping.  It emerged last week that no binding drug tests have taken place in Spanish football by anti-doping authorities for almost a year and yesterday the English FA was forced to handle doping misdemeanours in its own league.

Manchester City was charged with failing to provide details of training sessions and player whereabouts to allow anti-doping authorities to test the players.  Three times the club failed to provide officials with accurate information, leading to one of the world’s richest clubs being fined a miserly £35,000.  While there is no suggestion that Manchester City were trying to conceal evidence of drug use by their players, the paltry fine indicates the willingness of officials to give clubs and players the benefit of the doubt.

This lenience is particularly worrying when it is taken into account the huge physiological benefits performance-enhancing drugs could entail.  Clubs are increasingly using highly secretive and specialised technology to gain a legitimate edge on their rivals.  Any club prepared to use illicit methods would stand to benefit significantly, for example by using drugs to boost their players’ stamina to allow the team to press their opponents more intensely.

All Premier League clubs recognise the grave cost of relegation.  If suitably imperilled, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine that senior individuals at a club’s board may one day weigh the potential impact of relegation against the punishment for permitting drug use and decide it is a risk worth taking.  The attitude of Fifa and football’s national organisations suggest that they are refusing to countenance that such an event would ever take place.  Yet other sports have adopted a far healthier level of scepiticism to the performance of its athletes and football authorities must do more to ensure the sport is as clean as they would like to believe it is.

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