In a week where one UK star’s abuse of performance enhancing drugs has deprived us of his extraordinary talent, namely Spencer Matthews being asked to leave this year’s “I’m a Celebrity…” over his admission of a dependency to steroid pills, it is sad to see that the doping problem has gone beyond reality TV and is now impacting upon our sport as well.
Also this week, European football’s governing body, UEFA, announced that Arsenal’s loss to Dinamo Zagreb would not be overturned, following Zagreb’s Arijan Ademi being banned for four years for failing a test after the two sides met in the Champions League. This prompted angry comments from Arsene Wenger where he complained that UEFA were “accepting of doping” to which they responded that this decision was in accordance with the current WADA codes clearly stating that, for team sports, more than one player has to be found guilty before the club might be subject to any sanction or disqualification. If it’s only one player then it’s personal.
Earlier this year, UEFA also released the findings of an anonymous study of the urine samples of top footballers; it was found that one in every twelve had suspiciously high levels of testosterone, consistent with the use of anabolic steroids. Still UEFA rejected the claim that they might have a problem.
It’s no surprise when a governing body of football buries its head in the sand, but when the facts speak so clearly then it is amazing that it hasn’t prompted a deeper review into the way players are tested. If it’s a problem on I’m a Celebrity… as Matthews looked for an advantage in his personal appearance, then I’d assume that it might be a problem for a sport in which even mediocre players can earn multi-million dollar contracts from one good season. The reward for that gamble might just outweigh the risk.
Surely it is incumbent upon our clubs to more rigorously apply a set of moral rules, in addition to the WADA codes, and ensure independent testing is carried out to remove drugs from the game? This would allow for an insured zero-tolerance approach when threatened with disqualification for any failure, however UEFA certainly isn’t enforcing this, nor are any clubs coming forward with this suggestion.
But then you think about one-in-twelve again. That’s quite a high ratio. If it is true then how many teams would still qualify to play in any competition across a season? We know how self-serving the governing bodies can be so why would they bite too hard on the hands that feed them?
Greed lies at the root of most of our issues in sport and beyond and when the player is incentivised on their own performance, sometimes even disconnected to that of the club, then it’s no surprise that doping exists and will increasingly do so as the money measure dictates the action taken.
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