The severe lack of testing in world football has made it easy for potential drug cheats to continue playing – even at the highest level.
Arsenal lost to Dinamo Zagreb on Champions League matchday one and Arsene Wenger would prefer to see the result annulled. The reason? Arijan Ademi, the Dinamo Zagreb vice-captain, was handed a four-year ban by Uefa’s Disciplinary Commission last week after testing positive for a prohibited substance while playing in that famous win in October.
That Ademi’s ban stemmed from a match against Arsenal means its effect is amplified because no individual within football has spoken out as much about doping than Wenger – including again in the press conference ahead of Arsenal’s return match at the Emirates against Dinamo.
This time, Wenger declared that Uefa’s failure to mete out collective punishments for individual doping transgressions was effectively an endorsement of doping practices.
“You cannot say ‘OK, they had a doped player and the result stands’,” he told reporters. “That means you basically accept doping. But it is the rule and we accept that.”
In response to Wenger’s accusation, a Uefa spokesperson told Goal: “Uefa’s Anti-Doping regulations regarding the consequences for teams for doping offences are strictly in accordance with Article 11 of the WADA Code that states that “where more than one team member in a team sport has been notified of a possible anti-doping rule violation the team shall be subject to target testing for the event. If more than two team members in a team sport are found to have committed an anti-doping rule violation during the event, the team may be subject to disqualification or other disciplinary action.””
Dinamo have taken the stance that their man has done nothing wrong – that he was somehow the victim of a contaminated substance and fully intend to challenge Uefa’s finding at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the coming months.
“Ademi and experts proved his supplement was contaminated with a prohibited substance and he didn’t know what kind of supplement he was using,” Dinamo coach Zoran Mamic said.
“That is why I can’t understand this decision made by Uefa. A four-year suspension is stupidity.”
That line of defence – the contaminated substance excuse – has been heard before when it comes to positive tests. The fact remains, though, that participants in any sport should be ultimately responsible for any substance which is put into their bodies. And players know it.
Writing for the British Journal of Sports Medicine in an article entitled ‘Challenges and Threats to Implementing the Fight Against Doping in Sport’ Fifa chief medic Jiri Dvorak said: “In the mid and late 1990s, nutritional supplements gained immense popularity among professional as well as also recreational athletes, and an alarming number of positive doping cases for drugs such as nandrolone were reported in different sports including football.
“Athletes attributed their positive steroid cases to the intake of nutritional supplements contaminated with nandrolone or other anabolic steroids.
“A careful examination of more than 600 nutritional supplements by the WADA-accredited laboratory in Cologne supported this claim as 15% of the samples analysed contained anabolic androgenic steroids not reported on the label. Of great concern was the finding that the majority of contaminated nutritional supplements were freely available from fitness clubs, health-food stores and the Internet.”
“Following the publication of these results, the IFs, led by the IOC and Fifa, launched an educational campaign warning athletes to avoid nutritional supplements that were not approved by relevant national regulatory bodies.
“This message was reinforced by a consensus statement that reaffirmed the view that there was no evidence of ergogenic effects of dietary supplements (ie, a positive effect on health or performance) and strongly discouraged the indiscriminate use of any nutritional supplements.
“It was recommended that nutritional supplements should only be taken if advised by qualified sports nutrition professionals.”
So what did Dinamo make of that report? And if Ademi is unaware of the possibility of contamination, then how many other players are out there lumbering under false pretences of what they themselves – or their doctors for that matter – are putting in their bodies?
Between Ademi’s first positive test and the sanction brought against him, a wide-ranging interview with Wenger was published by L’Equipe. In it Wenger spoke with absolute certainty that his Arsenal teams had come up against teams who doped. The Ademi ban merely confirmed his suspicions.
“I try to be faithful to the values that I believe to be important in life and to pass them on to others,” he explained. “In 30 years as a manager, I’ve never had my players injected to make them better. I never gave them any product that would help enhance their performance. I’m proud of that. I’ve played against many teams that weren’t in that frame of mind.”
Wenger is repeating a theme he first raised back in 2004. “We have had some players come to us at Arsenal from other clubs abroad and their red blood cell count has been abnormally high,” he said at the time.
“That kind of thing makes you wonder. There are clubs who dope their players without the players knowing. The club might say that they were being injected with vitamins and the player would not necessarily know that it was something different.”
The claims that no systematic doping existed in the game were also given the short shrift by the Frenchman in a previous outburst.
“It is very difficult for me to believe that you have 740 players in the World Cup and you come out with zero problems,” he said.
While it is indeed true that Fifa conducted dope tests on all competing players ahead of the 2014 World Cup without unearthing one positive sample, critics raise the question of whether that says more for the testing procedures than the frequency of doping.
“The increase in the number of individual drug tests conducted between 2005 and 2012 is approximately 90,000, an increase of about 50 per cent, yet the number of adverse analytical findings has remained broadly the same,” Dvorak wrote in the BJSM.
“The implications of these important statistics are that increasing the number of doping tests will not necessarily result in a corresponding increase in the number of adverse analytical findings. There was a substantial increase in drug testing between 2005 and 2012, yet the number of true positive sanctioned cases remained constant.”
Dvorak also admitted football’s failure to nail even one EPO cheat – a blood booster favoured by Lance Armstrong among others – was perhaps due to “imperfect testing” procedures.
The most recent World Anti-Doping agency testing figures from 2014 show that a total of 674 anabolic steroid tests were conducted in football across the year with only three showing up prohibited substances. Those figures are nothing to be proud of. Likewise tests for EPO, Human Growth Hormone and blood transfusions fall similarly short with positive rates close to zero. Steroids account for around 60 per cent of football’s positive tests but you are far, far more likely to be caught for recreational drugs stimulants and cannabinoids than other performance-enhancing substances.
Consider that there are over 65,000 professional footballers in the world and all are theoretically eligible to be tested. Potential steroid dopers have barely a one per cent chance of being tested let alone delivering what is known by Wada as an Adverse Analytical Finding.
Delve further into the 2014 figures and you will see the extent to which football falls short.
The Brazilian football federation (the CBF) – not one blood test in 2014. The same story for Turkey, Portugal, Japan, Netherlands, Russia, Greece, Sweden, Mexico, China, Switzerland, the AFC, Conmebol and Caf.
The Croatian anti-doping authorities? Just 40 in-competition urine tests in football in 2014 and 37 out-of-competition; no blood tests were conducted. In that respect, Ademi can count himself unfortunate to have even been tested.
“Blood testing is a key part of Uefa’s anti-doping arsenal,” Uefa said. “Uefa has in fact been blood testing since 2008. In the 2014-2015 season, Uefa carried out 2,318 tests – 2,024 urine tests and 294 blood tests.”
Can anyone really say with absolute certainty, then, that he is the only player with prohibited substances in his system in this season’s Champions League? That testing is now so laser sharp that Uefa has managed to catch the one guy breaking the rules?