“Del Moral took over.
Lie on the bed, roll up your sleeve, give me your arm. Relax.
He tied a blue elastic band below my biceps, set an empty transfusion bag on a white towel on the floor next to the bed and wiped the inside of my elbow with an alcohol swab. Then the needle. I’d seen a lot of needles, but this one was huge – about the size and shape of a coffee stirrer. It was attached to a syringe that was in turn attached to a clear tubing that led to the waiting bag, with a small white thumbwheel to control the flow. I looked away; I felt the needle go in. When I looked again, my blood was pumping steadily into the bag on the floor.”
If the name Luis Garcia del Moral doesn’t mean anything to you at the moment, chances are you won’t forget it in a hurry after reading former pro-cyclist Tyler Hamilton’s tell-all autobiography. Hamilton, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong, comes clean about the culture of doping at the top of the cycling world in the Armstrong-era and the doctors and team managers who enabled and encouraged the riders to break the rules and deceive the drugs testers.
Del Moral features prominently, supplying riders with various drugs and, in the extract above, performing a blood transfusion on Hamilton and then storing the blood bag in a fridge so that it could be re-injected during the 2000 Tour de France.
When the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) charged Armstrong with doping, del Moral was one of five others named in what USADA called “a massive doping conspiracy from 1998-2011”. Like Armstrong, del Moral decided not to contest the charges and was subsequently banned for life on July 10th this year.
It wasn’t just cyclists who worked with del Moral, however. It seems his services were highly sought after. According to the website of sports consultancy firm that employed him (although presumably no longer), his CV includes positions as medical advisor to FC Barcelona and Valencia.
In addition to this, after his lifetime ban, the International Tennis Federation issued a short press release confirming that del Moral had also worked with “various tennis players”.
It does make you wonder why, in the light of this, no journalist has stepped up and asked the pretty obvious question – was del Moral doing the same things at Barca and Valencia that he was with Lance Armstrong’s team?
Given that Hamilton, Armstrong and other top cyclists were able to beat the drugs testers with the help of doctors like del Moral, what exactly would stop these ‘medical advisors’ bringing the same knowledge and techniques to football and tennis?
Update: An interesting snippet from Sunday Times journalist David Walsh after interviewing Tyler Hamilton:
TH recalled short conversation with Postal doc Luis del Moral from 1999: “you guys take nothing in comparison to footballers.” #cleancycling
— David Walsh (@DavidWalshST) September 23, 2012
Update 10/10/2012: I didn’t want to write a whole new post on this but Matt Scott of the Telegraph picked up on the Barca/del Moral link today, which is great to see. Barcelona were unsurprisingly not very forthcoming, confirming only that del Moral was “never on the payroll”, but admitting he may have worked with the medical department on an “ad hoc basis” and may have been employed by individual players. It’s also interesting to note that Valencia didn’t answer calls or respond to emails when asked the same questions.
The other big news today was the release of USADA’s 200-page report on why they brought sanctions against members of the US Postal team and it’s medical staff. I’m still plowing through the report but couldn’t resist a quick CTRL-F for “del Moral”. Here’s some highlights:
“Dr. del Moral would authorize cortisone for the riders for fictitious injuries; Tyler
Hamilton said this was a frequent practice.
Dr. del Moral developed a doping program for Christian Vande Velde that focused on
human growth hormone and cortisone injections.
Dr. del Moral provided hGH to Vande Velde and injected him with hGH and cortisone.
Dr. del Moral would also inject the riders with substances without telling the riders what
they were receiving, even when asked.
At times he was apparently using the riders as “guinea pigs,” investigating the impact of these substances on the riders”
The last one is particularly striking, I think. The report also states that George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis all testified Dr. del Moral was “deeply involved in the blood doping programme”. ( p.117 of the report).
I won’t hold my breath for football to become embroiled in this any time soon but there may be even more questions about del Moral’s role in the coming days after the full 1000-page USADA report is published.
It was relatively big news this week when 3 doctors who worked with Lance Armstrong’s US Postal cycling team received lifetime bans from sport for providing athletes with EPO, blood transfusions and masking agents.
What seems to have gone largely unreported is that one of the dirty trio – Luis Garcia del Moral – was, according to Velonation.com – working as a medical advisor for FC Barcelona and Valencia. Another intriguing link between doping and the world of Spanish football.
Those in cycling know that del Moral is generally considered bad news. In January 2011 Garmin-Slipstream sacked their Directuer Sportif Matt White, after he sent rider Trent Lowe to see del Moral without the team’s knowledge. In an interview with journalist Paul Kimmage in May 2011, Floyd Landis claimed that he paid del Moral to work with him on the logistics of blood tranfusions for the 2005 Tour de France.
As far as I can see, FC Barcelona haven’t made a statement on del Moral’s ban, which prohibits him from working in any sport which has signed up to the WADA code of conduct. It would be interesting to hear why they employed del Moral and what his specific role was within the team.
Del Moral is the third doctor with links to doping to have worked for, or been linked to, FC Barcelona. Pep Guardiola’s doctor Ramon Segura is currently (as far as I can see) still working as the club physician, Segura worked with both Guardiola and Frank de Boer when they tested positive for nandrolone during their playing careers.
In 2006 it was alleged by French newspaper Le Monde that the notorious Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, of Operacion Puerto fame, had been working with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Numerous footballers were said to have been named in Puerto but, six years on, none of those names have been released to the public, and none have been disciplined by the football authorities.
Former head of the FA Lord Triesman appeared before a parliamentary select committee today, convened to discuss broadly the subject of governance in football but more specifically Triesman’s role in the England 2018 World Cup bid.
During the questioning Triesman made four serious accusations about members of FIFA’s executive committee, based around the familiar story of bribes and how they influence excom member’s votes when it comes to deciding who hosts the World Cup.
Rightly, this caused a lot of excitement amongst the press but one other piece of information Triesman revealed seems to have gone wholly unreported (or so it seems after a quick Google news search) except for on Channel 4 News here in the UK.
When asked about a recording sold to a newspaper on which he discusses accusations of Spanish and Russian officials seeking to bribe referees (and which subsequently lost him his job as chairman of the FA and chief of the 2018 bid) Triesman goes into more detail about where he got the information from. The video of the hearing is on the select committee’s website but, as I’ve not seen it reported anywhere else, it’s probably worth putting up the transcript so as to avoid any inaccuracies:
Triesman: I’d been approached by a Spanish investigative journalist who wanted to put to me a number of things which he wanted to know I’d either heard about or believed might be happening here. He was writing what I assumed would be a pretty substantive story which covered manipulation of referees and also covered questions of avoiding the doping regulations in Spanish sport. As I understood it he had access to the tape of a discussion which a Spanish investigating magistrate had managed to get hold of in which some of these things appear to have been discussed between fairly senior people in Spain. I didn’t put it in my list because even a good and serious journalist coming along with a story of that kind might very well not be accurate, might be a rumour. I wasn’t really prepared and I said it was among the more fanciful things I’d heard.
Channel 4 News lead their report of Triesman’s testimony with this information (strange, seeing as doping is only actually mentioned once), coupled with footage of police investigators removing blood bags from fridges, presumably during the raid of a doping lab.
I wrote a while back about how questions about doping in Spanish football had never really been answered, particularly after the anecdotal evidence that came out of Operation Puerto from both Dr. Fuentes himself and cyclist Jesus Manzano (all that’s in the “Il Drogati” article linked in the first sentence too, just it’d look stupid if I linked to it again!). Add to this a story I found recently that claimed French newspaper Le Monde (who made the Lance Armstrong doping allegations in 2005) obtained documents that suggested Fuentes was working with players from Barcelona and Real Madrid. The claims were subsequently retracted after Barca and Real threatened legal action.
Similar rumblings came to the fore again recently when FC Barcelona were forced to defend themselves against doping allegations made by Spanish radio station Cadena Cope who reported that some of Barca’s physicians were less than reputable (I can’t read Spanish so was relying on the Google Chrome translation, maybe the accusation sounds stronger in its original language). They were possibly referring to Dr. Ramon Segura who is a club physician and who was previously Pep Guardiola’s doctor when he tested positive for nandrolone whilst playing for Brescia in 2001, and was also involved in the positive test given by Frank de Doer. It’s obviously worth pointing out that Guardiola was later cleared of doping by the Italian Olympic Committee in 2009.
So, obviously my ears pricked up when Triesman mentioned a tape that may or may not feature “fairly senior people in Spain” discussing how to avoid doping regulations. We know from cycling it’s actually pretty easy to avoid doping regulations if you have a good doctor; it’s messy, involves blood transfusions and masking agents, but it can be done and is seemingly almost second nature to those well-verse in the dark arts of doping.
My impression from Channel 4 News’s report tonight suggested that they had seen/heard the tapes Triesman referred to as well and (this is the speculative bit) the parliamentary privilege that allowed Triesman to mention what might otherwise be libellous remarks meant that Channel 4 News could report some of what they knew.
That’s only an educated guess, I wish 4 on demand put Channel 4 News on their service so I could watch the report again but, annoyingly, I can’t. Certainly the impression I got was that this tape had been seen by them.
Will anything more come of this? Quite possibly not. A glimmer of hope may come from Italy where a local magistrate has carried out a seemingly large-scale doping raid on the back of the work done by the federal investigation in America headed up by Jeff Novitsky. It sometimes seems, though, that it is left to police and local authorities to carry out the anti-doping work that should be done by sport’s governing bodies.
It’s interesting how these same accusations keep coming up again and again. It could well be that they’re just rumours designed to discredit what is undeniably a footballing nation at the zenith of its abilities right now, not to mention Spain’s success in other sports. But they always seem to lead back to the same question of whether or not Spain – and football in general – is doing enough to make absolutely sure that doping doesn’t take place. I hope it is, but I have my doubts.