football, or the illusion of a doping-free sport?

football, or the illusion of a doping-free sport?

Since the Diego Maradona earthquake, which tested positive for ephedrine during the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States, no national team player has been caught in the anti-doping nets at a World Cup. , a reflection of a sport that seems strangely spared from doping.

“If there was a doping problem in football, it would be known”: this is how the president of Fifa Gianni Infantino, in 2017, summed up the point of view of the football authorities.

He is also far from being the only one to consider that doping is not a subject, even beyond periods of exposure such as a World Cup like the one which begins in less than a month in Qatar (November 20 – December 18).

His predecessor Sepp Blatter, the ex-president of UEFA Michel Platini or even renowned coaches such as Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool coach or Vicente del Bosque, the ex-spain coach, have all in turn denied the existence of doping in football, the most practiced sport in the world, where the athletic dimension has only grown over the years.

– “Totally stupid” –

“To say that there is no doping in football is an absurdity”, nevertheless believes Jean-Pierre Mondenard, a sports doctor, author of numerous books on doping.

“Wherever there is competition, there is doping. Football is no exception to the rule,” he said.

However, the statistics do not support this. In 2020, for example, the controls of 354 players during international competitions only revealed one “atypical result” according to Fifa, “probably due to ingestion of contaminated meat”, she specifies. A few rare obscure players are sometimes caught, such as these two internationals – a Salvadoran and a Djiboutian – suspended for four years by Fifa in August 2022, or the Costa Rican Orlando Galo, perhaps deprived of World Cup after a control at the end of September revealed traces of an anabolic steroid… “But this remains infinitesimal compared to the mass of players”, estimates a source close to sports authorities.

In France, the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD), out of more than 1,200 blood and urine tests in 2020, only five abnormal results were recorded. “Especially for the use of cannabis and corticosteroids”, specifies Rémy Wallard, in charge of football controls for the AFLD.

“It is an extremely controlled sport, and on a regular basis. The statistics reveal a reality”, he assures.

For Rémy Wallard, this low number of doping cases is explained by “wages, which are so comfortable that the risk is much too high”. “They can lose their contract, it would be totally stupid for them to dope,” he said.

However, the scent of doping has, in the past, floated in the world of football.

In 1997, the former coach of the Blues who would become world champions, Aimé Jacquet, screamed conspiracy after an unexpected check in Tignes during the preparation camp.

Years later, the doctor of the France team Jean-Pierre Paclet will reveal in a book that certain blood tests carried out during this surprise check contained “abnormalities”. A time when Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps played at Juventus Turin, whose search by the Italian police in 1998 led to the discovery of a pharmacopoeia worthy of a hospital.

The trial that followed resulted in the acquittal of the club doctor for formal defect.

– Puerto case –

Several major Spanish clubs had also been splashed by the so-called “Puerto” doping affair, which emerged in the mid-2000s. The former doctor Emiliano Fuentes, central figure in this affair, who officially worked with certain medium-sized clubs in Spain , has also recently revealed to have been in informal contact or to have advised certain big clubs. But in the end, only a feeling of suspicion had surrounded Spanish football, nothing else.

“Before the 2000s, the fight against doping was the Middle Ages,” says Rémy Wallard.

And today? “You don’t have to be of superior intelligence to understand that the game is to take undetectable substances, or substances that the laboratories do not look for. The real dope pros don’t get caught”, assures Jean-Pierre Mondenard.

“There are undetectable oxygen-producing substances (like EPO). And then over the years, the techniques have been refined, with micro-dosing, undetectable”, estimates Doctor Mondenard.

The list of banned products from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), updated each year, has flaws according to him.

“Take caffeine, which was banned from 1982 to 2004. A recent study has demonstrated the doping effects on footballers. Why doesn’t WADA put caffeine back on the banned list?” asks the doctor.

A product “which however remains in the monitoring program of the WADA”, specified to AFP the agency which, questioned on the reasons for the low cases of doping in football, preferred to kick into touch on the side of the FIFA.

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