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’.
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.
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.