The Long Ball Tactic

Fuentes and football: strange medicines

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on February 5, 2013

Despite the testimony of Eufemiano Fuentes and witnesses that he treated footballers at his doping clinic, the identity of Fuentes’s non-cycling clients still remains unknown.

Yesterday, Iñaki Badiola, president of Spanish team Real Sociedad for a year in 2008, alleged that his predecessors had paid Dr Fuentes £281,500 a year to supply the club with “strange medicines”.

Among those he named were formed Sociedad president José Luis Astiazarán who is now president of the governing body of La Liga. Astiazarán issued a denial yesterday.

Futbol.as has the full interview with Badiola here (run it through Google translate).

AS.com has the video of Badiola telling shareholders in 2008 that the club bought doping products in the years up until 2008. Including the year Sociedad finished second in La Liga.

Elsewhere, El Pais publishes what it claims is the handwritten note by Fuentes listing Sociedad (or RSOC) as a client, alongside the names ‘Alfredo’ and ‘Milan’.

The Trial of Eufemiano Fuentes

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on January 29, 2013

When Spanish police raided Eufemiano Fuentes’s residence in May 2006 finding doping products and bags of blood, the sport of professional cycling was once again turned on its head

The ramifications were felt far and wide as Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani and many other names that had been at the top of the sport in the last decade were implicated in the Madrid-based Doctor’s doping network.

Fuentes has since become synonymous with cycling’s ‘dark arts’, as much a by-word for scandal as Festina and Lance Armstrong; but there have often been whispers about the other clients who Dr. Fuentes dealt with. Of the 186 blood bags seized from his clinic in Madrid, how many belonged to athletes from other sports?

Fuentes has stated himself in an interview with a Spanish newspaper that only 30% of his clients were cyclists, so why has cycling been the only sport which has handed out bans to those involved with Fuentes and the police raids that were codenamed Operacion Puerto?

The answer is a tough one to determine. It’s believed that somewhere there lies a mythical list of Fuentes clients which includes footballers and tennis stars. Cyclist Jesus Manzano – the whistleblower who kicked off Operacion Puerto, in much the same way Floyd Landis did with Lance Armstrong – has told Channel 4 News that prominent footballers visited Fuentes.

It is reported that in 2007 FIFA president Sepp Blatter requested to see the documents from Puerto, but no investigation has ever taken place in football or any other sport.

Now, this week Eufemiano Fuentes stands trial for endangering public health. Many had hoped this would be a day when Spanish authorities could strike a blow for clean sport and the extent of Fuentes’s shadowy network of clients would be laid out for all to see. It seems that the Spanish authorities had other ideas though.

In the run up to the hearing, it was announced that the much-anticipated trial would focus only on cycling. This prompted David Howman, the head of the World Anti-Doping Authority to complain to the Daily Telegraph that:

“We have been banging our heads against a brick wall to get access to the evidence that was gathered. It is not only frustrating and disappointing but it also means that many athletes who might be dirty have been allowed to compete.”

At the trial itself today Fuentes again repeated the claim that he treated footballers, tennis players, athletes and boxers. Despite these allegations being made in a 3-hour cross examination the defendant was not asked to elaborate upon these claims.

If Fuentes is accused of public health offences, rather than specifically doping (which Spanish legislation didn’t cover in 2006), then it seems bizarre to only focus on one third of his clients. In turn, it seems that claims from the defendant and the main whistleblower in the case have been investigated when they relate to cycling but ignored when it comes to other sports. If you were of a cynical disposition you may say it was beginning to look like a cover-up. But why would this be?

Some have suggested that, with Madrid bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympics, the last thing Spanish authorities want is for a doping scandal to explode in their faces ahead of the decision in September. The trial also allows Spain to present itself as tough on doping, even if this image does not hold up when you scratch the surface.

Other more shadowy allegations, aired by former FA head Lord Triesman in a Parliamentary select committee hearing in May 2011, involve a doping ring and some “fairly senior people in Spain”.

Could it be that cycling is an easy target? It is far simpler to prosecute Fuentes and focus on cycling – a sport already mired in doping scandals – than seek to open up new scandals in sports which have the perception (fair or otherwise) of being clean.

It may be that cycling has disproportionately more dopers than any other sport, but it is also a sport that conducts far more doping tests than others. Sports journalist and author Daniel Friebe pointed out on Twitter that whilst cycling had taken 4613 out-of-competition blood tests on athletes in 2011, in tennis the number was only 21.

Eufemiano Fuentes’s trial is expected to continue for the next month at least, with witnesses including Tyler Hamilton and Alberto Contador. Whether anyone from any sport except cycling is feeling the heat in the coming weeks remains to be seen.

The arguments against legalised doping

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on October 17, 2012

One of the oddest elements of the recent Lance Armstrong/US Postal doping case is the number of people who have concluded as a result that doping should be permitted in cycling.

recent six-year study by experts found numerous merits to decriminalising drugs in wider society, but I’m still sceptical about doing the same for performance enhancing drugs in sport, for the reasons I outline below:

What do you mean by ‘drugs’?

Very basically, fans need to realise that ‘drugs in sport’ is not a catch-all term. There seems to be an myth that doping is akin to activating a cheat on a computer game – you stick a needle in an athlete’s arm and they automatically boost their attributes by 10%. The term ‘doping’ or ‘drugs’ can range from bulking up using steroids to manipulating your blood levels using EPO. Advocates of legalised doping need to be clear as to which drugs should be legalised – all of them? only some? – and realise that doing this would open athletes up to numerous health risks, which we will discuss later.

Making a ‘level playing field’.

The main argument for legalisation is that doing so would create a level playing field, whereby all athletes would start from the same place and have access to the same drugs. This argument is flawed for a number of reasons. Primarily – and it’s a kind of obvious thing to have to  point out – human being’s bodies are not all the same, they react to different drugs in different ways. Some riders will find some PEDs help them, others will find the opposite. Former Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton said in a recent interview, “For me, growth hormone, when I tried it, felt awful. My legs felt sluggish. But some riders loved it, and that was their thing.”.

Verner Moller, a professor of sport and body culture at Aarhus University in Denmark recently advocated an “upper threshold” for the level of red blood cells in an athlete’s body. Moller used the argument that this would create a “level playing field”, saying

“Everybody would know what they can do, and it will be less important who has the best doping doctor. You would also see that we would get rid of those false positives, the bad publicity, the doping hysteria.”

Now, far be it from me to question a professor of sport and body culture, but this argument again ignores the physiological differences between athletes. If we set an upper threshold for hematocrit level (the percentage of blood which is made up of red blood cells which carry oxygen to the muscles) at, say, 50% this would not create a level playing field as people naturally have different hematocrit levels to begin with. An example from Tyler Hamilton again illustrates this well:

If Jonathan Vaughters’ is 48, he can only take a little bit of EPO, because it would be too dangerous for him, with testers, to raise his level any higher. Mine was in the lower forties, so EPO could help me more.

Moller’s argument that a threshold would also get rid of “false positives, bad publicity and doping hysteria”, also seems debatable. What would happen if the upper threshold was exceeded? Pro cycling actually did set a hematocrit limit at 50% in the days before EPO use could be detected by testing (a time when Lance Armstrong won his first couple of Tour de France titles, incidentally) and there is no evidence that cycling was any fairer then than it is now with stricter doping controls. This is also a time that, inarguably, had its share of bad publicity and doping hysteria too.

Health risks

In addition to this, saying doping should be legalised is akin to asking someone to put their health at serious risk for spectator’s entertainment.

The anti-doping organisation Bike Pure have a handy list of the health risks associated with doping on their website. These include an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, liver disease, sterility and depression through steroid use; whilst blood doping carries risks of septicaemia, blood clots, strokes, heart failure and increased risks of heart attacks. It’s surely beyond any person’s moral code to ask athletes to expose themselves to these risks for the sake of sport?

Taking a sentimental view

I watch cycling because I like seeing people haul themselves up a huge mountain on a tiny carbon-framed bike. I like watching people ride over 200kms and then out-think and out-pace their rivals in a sprint to the finish line. I like watch people ride through cobblestones and mud in Belgium and Northern France or be fast and smart enough to win a time trial. As we’ve seen with Lance Armstrong, those performances are instantly tainted when you find out they were done not solely through natural talent and training. Watching a whole peloton of people who could legally take drugs would not appeal to me at all. I generally find that those who advocate legalised doping or applaud Armstrong for doing what it took to win – such as sociologist Malcolm Gladwell – are not actually fans of the sport and are therefore lacking a deeper understanding of just why people love cycling. It’s beautiful, epic, romantic even, none of those adjectives can apply to doping. Cycling – when boiled down to its core – is about one person and a bike taking on everything else, and so it should remain.

Why is no one asking questions about Luis Garcia del Moral?

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on September 20, 2012

“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:

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.

What links FC Barcelona and the Lance Armstrong doping case?

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on July 14, 2012

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.

It’s not about the doping: Unanswered questions in the Lance Armstrong case

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on February 7, 2012

When U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. announced on Friday that there would be no charges against Lance Armstrong and his former U.S. Postal team the cycling world seemed to lapse into a kind of collective shock. Soon an all too predictable narrative began to be spun – namely that this was vindication for Armstrong and proof that he never doped. Out of curiosity I did a Google News search for the phrase ‘Armstrong cleared of doping charges’, sure enough more than one news agency was choosing to report the news of the case’s collapse in this way.

The truth, though, is somewhat more nuanced. My understanding is that sports doping is not, in itself, a crime in America and certainly not one that would be pursued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the F.B.I and the Department of Justice.

Armstrong was never accused simply of doping. The doping may have formed the basis for a case involving fraud, or misuse of public money or any of the other charges it was rumoured Jeff Novitzky and his team were following, but not a crime on its own. Therefore, the investigation could, hypothetically, have thrown up evidence of doping and still been closed down if the attorney didn’t feel there was a strong enough case to make the serious charges stick. In other words, it’s not correct to say that this decision not to press charges vindicates Armstrong from doping. In the same way, perhaps, that the unsatisfactory conclusion to the recent Barry Bonds perjury trial does not exonerate him from taking steroids.

Those who, like cycling commentator Phil liggett, seek to conflate the issue of doping with the closure of the federal case have either not understood the procedure or are being deliberately disingenuous.

There may be an argument now to just let sleeping dogs lie, the issue of Armstrong’s doping will never fully be resolved and, surely, if there were that much evidence then the federal authorities would have pressed charges?  I had some sympathy with this viewpoint in the immediate aftermath of the news on Friday, but since then a number of news reports and anonymous sources have created many unanswered questions.

The most intriguing of these came today when Cyclingnews.com reported the US internet radio station NPR had spoken to “sources within the FBI, FDA and US Postal Services” who were “shocked, surprised and angry” that they were only given 30 minutes notice before the L.A. Attorney’s office informed the media the case would be closed. The NPR source also claimed that prosecutors were about to indict a number of individuals for fraud, witness tampering, mail fraud and drug distribution before the rug was seemingly pulled from under their feet.

This version of events was backed up by “a source who had co-operated with the federal investigation” who told Cyclingnews.com:

I talked to someone within the investigation but the reason why the case was shut down was due to a one man decision. The evidence against those involved was absolutely overwhelming. They were going to be charged with a slew of crimes but for reasons unexplained he closed the case saying it wasn’t open for discussion.

We can piece together from this, then, that Andre Birotte Jr made the decision on Friday to drop the case unilaterally, only giving the agencies investigating it a 30 minutes head start before the media was told. Birotte, in his position as Attorney for the Central District of California, is entirely within his rights to do this, but the source who have subsequently spoken out clearly do not agree that there was insufficient evidence. Indeed, Cyclingnews’s source believes the federal evidence was “absolutely overwhelming”.

Why, then, do we find ourselves in the situation we are in now? There could be any number of explanations why Birotte took the decision to drop the case quietly, the Friday before the Super Bowl (a time when the media are distracted with the football event of the year and may not have either the resources or the will to comprehensively follow up a legal case involving cycling). Could one explanation be that this was more a political decision than a judicial one? The more we look at the information available combined with the odd timing, the more we are compelled to ask just what exactly went on behind the scenes?

The team that Armstrong hired to defend himself certainly carries some political clout. His attorney Mark Fabiani, the man dubbed the ‘master of disaster’, is a former White House special counsel who, according to ESPN, “specializes in helping steer embattled politicians, companies and organizations through legal and public relations crises”. It was Fabiani who steered Bill and Hilary Clinton through the Whitewater scandal of the early 90s and was hired by Goldman Sachs in April 2010 in the aftermath of the global financial crisis to clean up its public image. The Financial Times described one of Fabiani’s main attributes as being “politically connected”.

Fabiani’s business partner Chris Lehane is similarly well connected and, it is reported, worked on a daily basis in the White House with Clinton’s lawyer Lanny Breuer, who is now Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.

Before getting into full-blown conspiracy theory mode it’s maybe time to step back slightly and state that there’s no reason to believe anything untoward happened. Maybe a little lobbying went on here, a few old friends were lent on there, who knows. I do believe, however, that it’s worth highlighting the circles in which Armstrong and his team moved in, in order to view the case in a wider context.

If we take the Cyclingnews and NPR sources at their word then a U.S. Attorney has taken the decision to close down a case which those investigating it felt there was ‘overwhelming’ evidence to pursue. If that is what went on then there must surely be other factors involved. Would Birotte really want to spend the state’s time and money trying to prosecute someone as well connected as Armstrong? Did he really want to be the guy who sanctioned an investigation into how one of the world’s best known cancer charities spent its money? Did he decide, in the end, despite the evidence, the most politically expedient move would be to put a lid on the whole thing and move on? The timing of the decision could have come right out of the Fabiani PR playbook, as could the subsequent reports and comments trying to confuse the dropping of the Federal case with an acquittal from allegations of cheating in a bike race in France.

There may be more to come. In the meantime we can only speculate.

Where do we go from here?

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on February 4, 2012

It is my firm belief that Lance Armstrong won his 7 Tours de France whilst doping.

To counter this by saying, ” but he’s never tested positive” is to assume that cycling’s doping controls are absolute and will always catch the bad guys eventually. This didn’t happen with Jan Ulrich or the countless others who were caught out in Operation Puerto in 2006. Britain’s golden boy David Millar never tested positive, yet in 2004 police raided his room in Biaritz and found used syringes and two empty phials of EPO.

Basically, I could write a lengthy blogpost on why I think Armstrong doped, but I’d like to assume that every reasonable person, unburdened by the trappings of fandom, can look at the facts dispassionately and come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to believe he did it clean, however good a story it would make. There’s the testimonys from former teammates where doping regimes are described in detail, there’s his association with the controversial Michele Ferrari (which, according to Italian police, continued in secret until at least 2010 after Ferrari’s arrest in 2004), and then, of course, there’s the context. The rivals who were snarled at, crushed and firmly put in their place were all using EPO and transfusing blood, Armstrong rode and dominated in cycling’s dirtiest era and we are asked to believe his success was a result of talent and mental strength winning out over pharmaceutically enhanced opponents.

Those who hoped that the federal investigation launched into Armstrong and doping in US cycling would come up with charges and, ultimately, convictions were hopefully not all crossing their fingers out of bitterness or a bloody-minded vindictive desire to see a hero fall.

Instead, we wanted the truth to come out. Cycling cannot progress if its future is built on fairytales. We need to go back and honestly address what went wrong, why riders doped, who knew what and how it can be stopped in the future. The alternative to this, as far as I can see, is to shout loud about the guys who get caught out and bring the full force of scorn and indignation down on their shoulders. Sometimes these guys end up like Floyd Landis, where a confession relieves them of their burden, other times they end up like Marco Pantani. The common factor between the two is that they are suddenly ostracised and disowned by a sport and culture that nurtured them, taught them to act this way by institutionalising the act of doping, and then threw them to the wolves.

In Floyd Landis’s opinion, only a total amnesty can save cycling now. Ask riders to reveal how they dope, how they avoid testing positive and in return offer immunity from punishment. Understand a little more, condemn a little less, in other words. The sport needs to understand its problems before it can confront them fully. Landis has helped with this and he should be applauded for eventually doing the right thing, but the sport should make provisions for others to follow his lead, not brief the press that those who break cycling’s great omerta are liars or psychologically unbalanced.

To talk about this in abstract terms is fine, but the huge barrier standing in the way is cycling’s survival as a commercial entity. If it stops one day and says ‘actually, all this is a lie and we cannot say for sure that any of these athletes are clean’ the money would run out overnight. Which sponsor wants to have their name on the jersey of a cheat? Who wants their brand to be associated with lies and corruption? Where would the funding come from?

This is why cycling seemingly must carry on as it is, and why there will be huge sighs of relief in the offices of the UCI at the news no charges will be brought against the man who rejuvinated the sport after the Festina scandal in 1998, when pundits where openly questioning whether the Tour de France could survive. Cycling enjoyed some glorious commercial success in the years from 1999-2005, even if the racing itself was stolid and largely unexciting, the buccaneering daring of the Hinault, Lemond and Fignon era replaced by the machinelike, regimented performances of Armstrong’s US Postal team, leading from the front and grinding down opponents into submission.  To admit that this commercial renaissance was built on a lie would leave the governing body, and many others, open to numerous awkward questions they’d presumably all rather leave in the past.

There are certain n0-go areas in cycling, and Armstrong is definitely one of them. For that reason I can’t answer the question I’ve laid out in the title to this blogpost. I hope that the US Anti-Doping Agency, as they have pledged, carry out a thorough probe into doping practises and receive all the evidence which now won’t be used in the federal investigation. I hope they build their investigation on finding out the truth, no matter what, rather than a damage limitations exercise with one eye on keeping the golden goose laying eggs just a little bit longer.

I hope the truth comes out eventually because I want to believe in cycling a bit more. And, I think possibly more than that, I want the courage of Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton who did a lot of disgraceful things and told a lot of lies but eventually spoke out against a culture of denial, to count for something. I don’t want the PR machine to spin into overdrive and declare that Armstrong has been found not guilty and that Landis and Hamilton have been proved to have been lying, because no such thing has happened, no trial has taken place.

Cheating is probably more commonplace than we’d like to believe and once something has been set in motion its hard to stop. I’m not even sure doping can be seen in such absolute terms as a matter of right and wrong. Christophe Bassons found being ‘right’ was hard, as he was mocked by his teammates for refusing to take the doping products which they all used.  If you want to succeed in the sport, you’re probably going to need to do more than ride clean and hope for a break, particularly in an event that spans three weeks. And isn’t that what sport is about anyway? Finding a way to succeed. That’s not a justification of doping, it’s just a question. But it’s a question that needs to be answered, along with a lot of others, if cycling is to lay its demons to rest for once and for all.

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What could football be doing?

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on May 13, 2011

Here’s an interesting look at how cycling’s governing body (the UCI) uses its drug testing programme.

This list was leaked, presumably from someone in the UCI, to the French sports daily L’equipe who published it this morning. It’s basically a “suspicion list”, for want of a better term, that doctors gave to the UCI before the start of the Tour de France 2010 showing which riders they think displayed signs of possibly doping.

(credit to Bobby Lightspeed)

According to L’equipe, riders in the 4-10 categories are the ones testers should take notice of. Don’t draw too many conclusions from this, it’s certainly not a list of who is and who isn’t doping, more just a guide for who to test.

All of this is based on rider’s biological passports – a collection of data based on blood samples taken at different times which can be looked at collectively. If a rider’s blood levels differ from one test to another, or there are any other anomalies, then this may be evidence that they are doping and should be examined closer.  They can highlight things like fluctuating hematocrit levels and haemoglobin levels, which could indicate the use of doping products to aid recovery and create red blood cells to produce more oxygen.

The biological passport is something I believe FIFA should implement worldwide. The logistics are obviously tricky – there are far more professional footballers in the world than there are professional cyclists – but if it could be brought in initially for, say, every player in England and Spain’s top divisions then it would be a really worthwhile project and show FIFA were serious about their anti-doping message. It’s something they have “considered” in the past but, to my knowledge, have yet to do anything about.

For this to happen there, of course, needs to be more blood testing done. I’ve read various FA pdf files that outline their approach to anti-doping and a real roadblock seems to be the fact blood testing is expensive. In a game which is so awash with money at the top level this really shouldn’t be a problem. Sponsors could be encouraged to put money into an anti-doping pool that could be used effectively or, alternatively, FIFA could channel more of its revenue into this area of the game.

People might ask: why address a problem that doesn’t exist? Surely the only reason cycling is so far ahead of football in blood testing and the biological passport is because it is a dirtier sport? Well, for a start we don’t know that football is cleaner than cycling. I’ve written about examples in the past where top footballers have been found using exactly the same doping products as cyclists (namely EPO) but, for whatever reason, not much has been made of it. In addition to this, anti-doping rules shouldn’t be reactionary measures, they should be preventive. Why wait until you have a doping problem before doing anything about it? Isn’t it best to act early to prevent doping ever becoming an issue?

In the wake of even more FIFA corruption allegations this week Sepp Blatter could really clean up his imagine by taking  anti-doping seriously. For a man who says he wants to “take a step ahead in the fight against doping” he’s been very inactive thus far. In a medical report on FIFA’s website in August 2007 it was revealed that no blood testing took place at the 2006 World Cup whatsoever, despite having taken place at the 2002 World Cup. The reason given for this was:

Laboratory experts advised against taking blood tests, since given current levels of medical advancement, they would not be able to provide any further information. The blood tests taken at the 2002 FIFA World Cup did not throw up any abnormal results.

I find this baffling. Blood tests are more effective than urine tests, that’s been shown in sports like cycling and athletics for years. I’m sure that WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) would argue FIFA’s suggestion that blood tests couldn’t provide any more information than urine tests, and the logic that there weren’t any “abnormal results” four years previously so testing is now unnecessary is perverse, to say the least.

In my opinion, despite the obvious flaws in cycling’s “suspicion list” (and, remember, the list was never meant to be published), football could still take a few cues here and move towards being more responsible. Blood testing is needed in the sport on a far more regular basis than currently happens. Then, through the biological passport, governing bodies can get a more accurate picture of who to test and whether or not players are clean.

Lord Triesman’s other revelation

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on May 10, 2011

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.

Lord Triesman, having a right old natter earlier today.

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.

Il Drogati: doping and football

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on September 5, 2010

Portugal’s national coach Carlos Queiroz was last week banned for six months after ‘disrupting’ the work of anti-doping testers during his team’s preparation for the 2010 World Cup. Whilst it would be wholly spurious and unfounded, if not downright libellous, to link the story to this event, which happened around the same time and was the subject of many rumours, there certainly remain many unanswered questions around the subject of doping in football.

Cycling, one of the continent’s other great loves, was rocked by the revelations that occurred after the arrest of a Belgian by the name of Willy Voet in 1998.  All of a sudden cycling fans had to come to terms with the fact that the sport’s top stars were not supermen, they were talented athletes who had learned how to enhance their performances through the use of a series of pharmaceuticals, notably erthyropoietein (EPO) a stimulant which can increase the amount of red blood cells in the body to aid recovery and build stamina. EPO was not detectable through any kind of doping test throughout the 1990s and was thus used widely in cycling during this time, every Tour de France winner from 1996 until 2006 has either admitted to doping or failed a drugs test.

How does this effect football? Well, in the wake of the 1998 cycling scandal Roma manager Zdenek Zemen cast doubt in Italian magazine L’Espresso about the physique of certain Juventus players. Zemen believed that the increase in muscle bulk in players including Gianluca Vialli and Alessandro del Piero was likely achieved through doping, a problem he claimed was rampant in Italian football. The allegations were dismissed by everyone from Marcello Lippi to Vialli himself, who called Zemen a “terrorist”, but the claims were significant enough to be investigated by a Turin magistrate named Raffaele Guariniello.

Guariniello went through medical records, interviewed persons allegedly involved and, after two years, had enough evidence to make a case against Juventus. At the centre of the subsequent trial was the accusation of ‘sporting fraud’ levelled at Juve, the evidence seen in court included pages of stimulants given by the club’s medical staff to players and the revelation that the Turin club had not informed football authorities what exactly the medication was that they had been dishing out, as was the rule in Italy. After two years a sensational verdict was delivered – Juve’s doctor was found guilty of administering a series of illegal substances to footballers at the club, including EPO. In somewhat of a whitewash the court found that Juventus themselves were not guilty of anything as it could not be proved that Juve had ordered the doctor to carry out this doping programme. There then followed a lot of legal wrangling and visits to appeal courts and a new verdict was reached in 2005 – everyone at Juventus was absolved of ‘sporting fraud’ and there was no proof of EPO usage. More trips to appeal courts were made until the whole thing became a mass of confusing verdicts, retractions and reinstatements. David Foot in his superb book Calcio summarises the final verdict on the Juve doping case thusly:

“The Cassation court – the highest in the land – came to a final decision in March 2007. It was a classic Italian judicial compromise, satisfying nobody. In the first place the sentences absolving both [Juve president] Giraudo and [club doctor] Agricola were quashed. But the statute of limitations meant that nobody could any longer be convicted for the crimes of ‘sporting fraud’ and doping. So, in short, the judges had upheld the original sentence (guilty) but, in practice, everybody walked free without a mark on their criminal record.

An incredible turn of events, when you think about it. Essentially, an Italian football team was found guilty of what amounts to running a systematic doping programme and not a thing was done about it. Compare this to the reaction caused by the Festina scandal in cycling in 1998 where several riders, team managers and doctors were given lengthy bans and there was talk of abandoning the entire Tour de France and whether the sport itself could carry on. Even today the effects of Festina are still felt in professional cycling. In the Juventus case Agricola was, amazingly, even allowed to stay on as team doctor.

Outside of Italian football, murmurings about doping have not gone away. In 2004, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger made the claim that “We have had some players come to us at Arsenal from other clubs abroad and their red blood cell count has been abnormally high. That kind of thing makes you wonder”. To go back to cycling again, if any rider is caught with a high level of red blood cells there is no ‘wondering’ involved,  it means only one thing – that rider is using EPO and is immediately suspended, pending further investigation. Wenger went on to allege “there are clubs who dope their players without the players knowing”, painting a rather murky picture of an underworld that seems to have gone almost wholly unreported in the world of football.

Football was, again, linked closely to doping in the Operacion Puerto case of 2006. Puerto was the case brought against Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes who, from his Spanish laboratory, administered doping products to 200 professional athletes. Although the Puerto case is most commonly linked to cycling this is solely because cycling’s governing body were the only sporting organisation to reveal the names of the riders involved in the case. Of the 200 athletes who were allegedly seeing Fuentes, only 34 of them are cyclists. Fuentes himself has said that alongside cyclists he also worked with tennis stars and footballers, cyclist Jesus Manzano also claimed that he had seen several well-known La Liga players also visiting Fuentes whilst he was there.

Once again, despite the highly suspicious nature of the links between footballers and Fuentes, nothing was ever done. Cycling remains the only sport to have named and subsequently banned those involved in Operacion Puerto, the other sporting governing bodies are, presumably, just sitting on the list of names they have, content not to take any action at all.

One of the main issues here is whether or not the doping histories of cycling and football run parallel. The Juventus case seems to prove that doping was happening at at least at one club in the 1990s, at the same time that it was taking a stranglehold over professional cycling. If you are prepared to believe that Juventus had a doping programme then it’s not too much of a stretch to believe this may have been the case at Italy’s other top clubs, if not the norm around the footballing world. Cyclings bid to clean itself up after the dog days of the 1990s took a wrong turn when the more sophisticated methods of blood doping and avoiding the EPO test came in to play in the early 2000s. Floyd Landis’ allegations against the US Postal cycling team point to a world of transfused blood and even more sophisticated, widespread, systematic doping, could football have used the same methods to avoid failed doping tests? It is all very much speculation, but the circumstantial evidence from Operacion Puerto at the very least hints that football is not as clean as we’d like to think it is.