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’.

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 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.