When Lance Armstrong confessed to doping over the course of his career as one of the most successful cyclists of all time the ripples of his offences were expected to ripple across the sporting world. Cycling was ripped apart by allegations of doping. ‘Other sports would follow,’ it was said at the time.
It never quite turned out that way. Maria Sharapova is the highest profile athlete to be found guilty of doping since Armstrong’s infamous admission, with tennis expelling a number of players from the sport after the discovery of banned substances in their system. Over 1,000 athletes linked to Russia’s Olympic program were this year also found guilty of state-sponsored doping. Football, however, has yet to have its Armstrong moment.
But on Thursday Saudi Arabia great Mohammed Noor was banned from the game for four years, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upholding the suspension after testing positive for banned substance Amphetamine in a routine in-competition doping test conducted in November 2015.
Noor is no Armstrong or Sharapova, but he is the highest profile footballer in the Arab world to have been banned from the sport for doping. His case could set a precedent for football as a whole, underlining that even the most renowned, revered players must comply with doping regulations.
There have been a number of red flags raised in football over the past decade or so, and still the sport has yet to take heed. Take Jesus Manzano’s, the Spanish road cyclist and whistleblower in the Operacion Puerto case that blew open doping in cycling, comments that he had “worked with Spanish football teams from the first and second divisions that have improved their performance.” Or his claim that “Spain would be stripped of the World Cup and European Championship” if he were to reveal doping practices in football.
Arsene Wenger once raised his suspicions. “We have had some players come to us at Arsenal from other clubs around the world and their red blood cell count has been abnormally high,” the Frenchman explained in an interview back in 2004. “That kind of thing makes you wonder. There are clubs who dope their players without the players knowing. Their club might say that they were being injected with vitamins and their players would not necessarily know that it was something different.”
So is football doing enough to combat the threat of doping? Just last year the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) introduced strict new regulations, with their new biological passport scheme called “the strongest anti-doping program ever seen in football.” It has never been harder for a doper to get away with cheating in football.
That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happening, though. A study commissioned by UEFA last year revealed hundreds of “atypical” test results from players across the continent. Of more than 4,000 urine samples taken 68 players recorded abnormal results, indicating the possible use of banned anabolic steroids. Some of those players are of Champions League and Europa League standard.
Such results are concerning. They suggest football has more of a problem with doping than anyone is willing to accept. “Football is 100 per cent clean,” Cristiano Ronaldo once insisted. “It would have to be a massive conspiracy,” Lord Triesman, former chairman of the FA, said. But how can the sport be so blasé when there are warning signs everywhere?
Even after Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho’s 30-day suspension for using a fat burner, football refuses to truly accept it may well have a problem with doping. Noor’s ban must be considered a watershed moment for the game, with the Saudi legend’s career effectively ended by the four-year suspension he has been handed at the age of 38. For the first time, a significant marker has been laid down.
Doping exists in football, that is in no doubt, but to what extent does it taint the sport? There is a certain arrogance when it comes to football’s attitude towards systematic cheating. Such hubris might stem from the belief that, unlike other sports, football results cannot be directly warped by doping. It is, after all, a game reliant as much on technical ability and mentality as physical capacity, perhaps even more so. An advantage can still be gained by doping in football, though.
2016 saw doping stick its ugly head above the sporting surface once again. It is an issue that transcends any one sport, yet football remains complacent about its threat. Maybe Noor’s ban will make some within the game reconsider their stance.SHOW MORE