Football needs to protect itself from doping before it is too late

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FIFA need to step up their drug testing programme to avoid any high profile scandal rocking the sport

Following the two-year ban handed to Fleetwood Town midfielder Gerard Kinsella, who was found to have been using the banned steroid nandrolone, it leads many to question if there is enough awareness of the potential for doping in football.

It isn’t something many fans don’t associate with the sport (mainly due to a lack of examples in the British game) but after recent high profile cases around the world, football can’t remain so sure on the subject.

Many argue that considering how many professional footballers work in the English football pyramid and how few cases there is of doping, that it isn’t something that blights our national sport. But that would be to ignore, and belittle, the instances that have been reported.

In the 2002/2003 season Billy Turley was given a warning for using the same drug that Kinsella was found guilty for using, and more recently Barnet winger Mark Marshall was banned last season for two years after he also used a performance enhancing drug.

The FA believes that it is doing as much as any other sporting authority, adhering to the guidelines set out by the World Anti-Doping Agency. They test players after games, at training and when they are at home, taking blood and urine samples to test for both performance enhancing and recreational drugs. Last season they carried out 1,278 tests (mainly in the Premier League) and only four players failed.

FIFA carries out the drug testing at all international competitions and requires all member associations to carry out tests. In 2011, they reported that there had been 28,587 tests carried out worldwide and that only 19 of those players had traces of performance enhancing drugs in their samples.

These figures are encouraging, and show that any doping in football is only being undertaken by a tiny fraction of the footballing community. But at a time when other sports are under the spotlight because of their failure to detect doping, shouldn’t football want to update their tests and make it more comprehensive so that a greater number of players get tested?

Sponsors and television companies will not appreciate football becoming embroiled in a scandal (similar to the one cycling recently suffered once Lance Armstrong had admitted beating his sport’s governing body and remaining undetected throughout his career) and FIFA will want to keep those parties happy in order to sustain valuable revenue streams.

A poll in FourFourTwo recently, which was undertaken by 100 anonymous footballers in Britain, revealed that 13% of those individuals asked knew of players who had taken performance enhancing drugs. Arsene Wenger also spoke this season about his suspicions of doping in football, saying that he believed it was much more widespread than was being reported and that he couldn’t believe FIFA test hundreds of players at World Cups yet find “zero problems”.

Wenger referred to a case in Spain in which the topic of doping in sport is the main issue. Dr Eufemiano Fuentes is standing trial after it was alleged he had helped cyclists, tennis players, athletes, boxers and footballers take performance enhancing drugs that couldn’t be detected. La Liga club Real Sociedad have been highlighted by the case once it was discovered the club paid £280,000 to Fuentes’ clinic.

Because of the ever growing financial rewards in football, and the huge support it enjoys all over the globe, players are beginning to think that any risk is worth taking just to get their share of the benefits on offer. This season already we have seen how susceptible football is to match-fixing, and a huge investigation is underway to bring those culprits, including players and club officials, to court.

While UEFA and FIFA worry about goal line technology and extra officials, their time would be better spent and far more appreciated if they would turn their attention towards the issue of doping and making testing more stringent. It is essential these measures are taken before football suffers its first high profile case and its image shattered.

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