football, or the illusion of a sport without doping?

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

“If there is a doping problem in football, it will be known”: this is how Fifa president 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 that will start in less than a month in Qatar (November 20 – December 18 ).

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

– “Completely stupid” –

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

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

However, this is not supported by the statistics. In 2020, for example, the controls of 354 players in international competitions only revealed an “atypical result” according to FIFA, “probably due to the ingestion of contaminated meat”, he specified. Sometimes some rare unknown players are caught, such as these two internationals – a Salvadoran and a Djiboutian – who were suspended by FIFA for four years in August 2022, or the Costa Rican Orlando Galo, who was probably deprived of the World Cup after the control at the end of September Revealed the traces of an anabolic steroid… “But it remains very small compared to the mass of the players”, estimates a source close to the 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”, specified Rémy Wallard, in charge of football controls for AFLD.

“It is a highly regulated sport, and on a regular basis. The statistics show a fact”, he assured.

For Rémy Wallard, this low number of doping cases is explained by “the salary, which is so comfortable that the risk is too high”. “They could lose their contract, it would be absolutely 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, cried conspiracy after an unexpected check on Tignes in the preparatory camp.

A few years later, the French team doctor Jean-Pierre Paclet would reveal in a book that some blood tests carried out during this surprise examination contained “abnormalities”. A season in which 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 the formal defect.

– Port Case –

Several big clubs in Spain were also splashed by the so-called “Puerto” doping affair, which appeared in the mid-2000s. Former doctor Emiliano Fuentes, the central figure in this affair, who officially worked in several medium-sized club in Spain , recently also revealed that it has had informal contact with or advised several big clubs. But in the end, only a sense of suspicion surrounds Spanish football, nothing more.

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

And now? “You don’t have to be super intelligent to understand that the game took undetectable substances, or substances that the laboratories are not looking for. The real drug experts are not caught”, assures Jean-Pierre Mondenard.

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

The list of prohibited products from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which is updated every year, has flaws according to him.

“Take caffeine, which was banned from 1982 to 2004. A recent study showed the effects of doping on football players. Why didn’t WADA put caffeine back on the banned list?” asked the doctor.

A product that “remains however in the monitoring program of WADA”, referred to AFP the agency that, questioned on the reasons for the low cases of doping in football, preferred to contact the side of FIFA.

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